The Ins and Outs of Hearing Aids

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December 18, 2019
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December 28, 2019

Understanding How Your Hearing Aid Works

The evolution of technology has done amazing things with hearing aids over the years. Many of the devices manufactured today are incredibly advanced, hooking seamlessly to Bluetooth technology, streaming GPS from your phone, or even linking to a hearing loop at a theater or events center.

No matter what model hearing device you have, it’s a good idea to spend some time learning about the various features and parts that are involved in case you encounter a problem. There are two common types of hearing aids on the market. In-the-ear (ITE) and Behind-the-ear (BTE), both of which are broken down into various styles.

Common parts are shared amongst most of the styles, with all models having:

  • Microphone (collects sound waves and relays them to the amplifier)
  • Amplifier (transforms sounds into electrical signals then sends them to the receiver/speaker)
  • Wire (transmits power and signal from the body of device to the speaker)
  • Power source (battery maybe disposable or rechargeable)
  • Receiver/speaker (typically located within a dome or earmold inside the ear canal)
  • Switch/button (depending on size and style, this might change programs, settings, or volume)

In-the-Ear

Described appropriately, this type of hearing aid is worn inside the ear canal. More customizable to the individual patient, your hearing professional will take an impression, likely during the initial consultation. Different styles of ITE hearing aids fit deeper inside the ear canal, though there are some that sit closer to the outer ear and are available in assorted skin tone colors.

Invisible in the canal (IIC) and Completely in the canal (CIC) devices are pretty much invisible to those around you. Even upon close inspection they are often unable to be detected. Placed deep within the ear canal, these tiny instruments can be removed by gently pulling on a small string that is attached to it.

Initially many are unsure about this, but after a short period of becoming acclimated they are pleased with the ease of use and the anonymity of use. Advantages are:

  • Sound quality due to fit within the ear
  • Very discreetly hidden

Some disadvantages are:

  • Due to the small size, they can be difficult for people with dexterity issues
  • The small size can also hinder wireless connectivity, for example with cell phones
  • They are more prone to damage due to moisture and ear wax buildup

In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids utilize more of the outer, lower portion of the ear canal. This sets them out a bit farther and allow more usability for people who experience problems operating smaller instruments. Since they are slightly larger than their IIC and CIC counterparts, they are known to have a longer battery life and can work for a broader variety of hearing difficulties.

Still discreet, they offer an extended range of features as well, such as manual controls for volume adjustment and directional microphones. These allow for better reception in loud environments like sporting events, restaurants, or at concerts. Advantages include:

  • Additional features and a longer battery life than IIC and CIC models
  • Discreet

Though slightly different than IIC and CIC models, they share similar disadvantages such as:

  • The small size can also hinder wireless connectivity, for example with cell phones
  • They are more prone to damage due to moisture and ear wax buildup
  • Due to more of the ear being occupied, the wearer may experience a more plugged feeling

Low profile hearing aids fall within the ITC style though they vary from full-shell designs that fill most of the outer ear bowl area to half-shell which fills a portion of the ear bowl. These models are designed a bit larger and allow for features such as manual controls for volume as well as the ability to change programs with the push of a button in addition to directional microphones.

Some advantages of this model:

  • Allows for more features
  • Additional user controls
  • Larger size makes insertion and removal easier
  • Better connectivity with wireless devices

Disadvantages are:

  • Larger size makes it less discreet
  • Due to more of the ear being occupied, the wearer may experience a more plugged feeling

Behind-the-Ear

Normally referred to as receiver in the ear (RITE), receiver-in-ear (RIE), or receiver in canal (RIC) this type of hearing device has an open-fitting design with the speaker made to be inserted into the canal via an ear dome, rather than the main part of the hearing aid.

With the speaker inserted into the ear canal, the main brains of the device sit behind the hear in a very small box that houses the microphone, amplifier, a power source, and potentially a telecoil. The telecoil has become quite common on most hearing aids within the past 50 years. The small copper coils work in combination with a hearing loop to offer the wearer a significantly greater experience in areas where available such as event centers, airports, courtrooms, and medical offices as well as many other public areas.

The speaker located within the ear canal is connected to the transmitter with a small, thin wire. This type of technology offers a quality of sound that is more advanced and is available from most major manufacturers of hearing aids.

As with all these options, no one type, or style is right for everyone. Seek the assistance and advice of a hearing health professional if you’re considering purchasing hearing aids. Have them run through all the benefits and features of each part so you’re aware of the pros and cons and can make an educated decision.

If you already wear hearing aids, do yourself a favor and become familiar with the different parts that make them work. You’ll be better able to troubleshoot any problems you encounter, or you’ll be in a better position to explain to your hearing aid specialist if you’re having issues.

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