Hearing Aid Types

Woman fitting hearing aids | A Better Ear

Different Types of Hearing Aids Available in Australia

In this blog, we provide you with a guide to understanding the different types of hearing aids available in the Australian market.

When it comes to choosing a hearing aid, the task can be daunting because of the bewildering array of manufacturers, models, acronyms, and industry jargon.

A good way to start, is to familiarise yourself with some of the form factors that you might come across. The differences are not simply cosmetic, however. There is a practical relationship between style and function which we will explain in simple to understand language below.

Behind-the-ear (BTE)

A BTE is a hearing device that sits behind the ear and uses a plastic tube to send sound from the body of the hearing aid, to the wearers ear. This contrasts with the Receiver-in-the-Ear (RIC) style which uses a wire to do this – detailed below. In the BTE, sounds are captured by microphones in the body of the aid, processed within the aid, and output through a tiny speaker within the body of the hearing aid. (Quick side point; the speaker in a hearing aid is called a ‘receiver’). The sound travels from the receiver, in the top of the hearing aid, down a plastic tube and into the ear.

Signia Motion BTE with thin tubes and custom moulds.

Standard, moisture resistant, plastic tubes may be more robust that the wires used in a RIC hearing aid.  Together with the receiver position in the body of the aid, the tubes make a BTE an overall larger, and slightly more robust, hearing aid. This can have benefits for those with difficulty handling small things with their fingers, or who are subject to wet ears.

On the other hand, the use of a tube to send sound to the ear, results in a small loss of sound quality.

Either a soft ear dome (or bud), or a custom shaped acrylic or silicon ear mould, made from a 3D impression of your ear, is used with the BTE. Custom moulds may be recommended to improve comfort and retention, or address sound issues.

BTE’s are now available in both battery and rechargeable models. Bluetooth connectivity is also available in some models.

Pros;

  • BTE’s can be more robust. This makes them easier to handle and less prone to damage.
  • Cleaning and maintenance may require less fine motor skills and close vision.
  • Can be of benefit to people with a mild to profound loss.
  • Due to their position outside the ear canal, they are less prone to moisture damage than Custom hearing aids.

Cons;

  • Due to the larger overall size and the tubes, BTE’s are generally more visible.
  • Their sound quality may not be as clear as a RIC or Custom device.

Speak to us to find out if this style is appropriate in your circumstances.

Receiver-in-the-Canal (RIC)

A RIC is a specific type of Behind-the-Ear hearing aid, that puts the hearing aids speaker (called the ‘receiver’) into the wearer’s ear. This has several benefits.

Firstly, sound quality is superior to the BTE model. This is because the receiver (remember, that is the speaker) is much closer to the ear drum, and therefore doesn’t need to bump its way down a 4cm plastic tube.

Secondly, cosmetics. By removing the receiver from the body of the hearing aid and placing it in the ear canal, the hearing aid can be smaller. The receiver is connected to the body of the hearing aid by a fine plastic-coated wire, that is exceptionally discrete.

Penelope wearing a Unitron Discover Next Moxi Move 9 rechargeable RIC. Notice that the receiver wire is almost invisible.

When it comes to the ear-fit, receivers may be covered by a flexible ear dome (or bud) or they may be fitted into a custom acrylic mould made from an impression of your ear. Moulds can be helpful for retention (to stop the receiver falling out) or to improve acoustics (sound quality).

The head of the receiver must be kept free of debris and wax, otherwise, the sound can be blocked or muffled. This is done through a miniature wax filter, which the wearer removes when blocked. The small size of wax filters can make management difficult for those with vision or dexterity issues.

Removing the dome to expose the wax filter and receiver in a Phonak Paradise 90 hearing aid.

RIC’s represent the largest and most popular style of the hearing aid market. Benefitting from their position on the back of the ear, RIC’s are generally less susceptible to moisture and corrosion issues than Custom hearing aids (see below). 

A wide variety of RIC’s are now available in lithium-ion rechargeable models as well as the standard array of battery sizes. Bluetooth connectivity and rechargeability are now even available in most entry level devices.

Pros;

  • Great sound quality
  • Balances cosmetic consideration and performance
  • A broad range of features

Cons;

  • The fine ‘receiver wire’, can become damaged over time if not handled with care during insertion and removal.
  • Small components can make management difficult
  • Not suitable for people with discharging/weeping ears/chronic infections

Book an appointment with us to discuss which style is appropriate for you.

Custom Hearing Aids

A custom hearing aid is a hearing aid that is made from a silicone impression, or 3D scan, of your ear. Not to be confused with a custom mould, a custom hearing aid fits the microphone, processor chip, battery, receiver, and often Bluetooth aerials, into the ear.

Two reasons for wanting this style of hearing aids, include cosmetic considerations, and ease of insertion.

Custom’s can be further broken down by size, each having their own rather self-explanatory names. Here they are in order of size; from biggest to smallest.

  • In-the-ear (ITE)
  • In-the-canal (ITC)
  • Completely-in-the-canal (CIC)

Invisible-in-the-canal (IIC)

A pair of colour coded custom Unitron Discover Next Insera 9 CIC’s (Completely in the canal) with a 50c piece for size reference.

Whilst Custom hearing aids offer cosmetic benefits, their size comes with some trade offs.

Firstly, your ear canal is a warm, moist environment. Having a microelectronic device exposed to that environment all day everyday, takes its toll. Custom’s are more likely to require service and possibly repair during their lifetime.

Secondly, the smaller the device gets, the less components can be fit inside. You may find yourself trading off features such as wireless streaming from bluetooth devices or binaural sound processing (which provides better hearing in noise).  Of course, technology is always getting smaller, so this could be a temporary condition, and even now custom devices are available that are both rechargeable and bluetooth enabled.

Pro’s;

  • Smaller models can be more discrete. Especially when compared to BTE’s, viewed from behind.
  • Can be more comfortable to wear
  • Won’t interfere with the arm of your spectacles
  • Improved ease of insertion for those with reduced shoulder mobility

Con’s

  • Small size can compromise feature set
  • More prone to breakdown as a result of exposure to moisture in the ear canal
  • May break if dropped
  • Can result in a more “blocked up” sound of your own voice
Changing a wax filter on an Oticon Opn 1 Bluetooth enabled ITC custom hearing aid.

It is important that you think carefully about what style you want for your hearing aid, whilst remaining open to advice from your Audiologist about what is clinically appropriate for your hearing loss.

At A Better Ear we take the time to understand your circumstances and help you develop realistic, and practical, hearing goals. This helps you get the improvements you are seeking in social situations and at home. Navigating the complicated landscape of hearing options can be daunting but with our help, you can be confident in a choice that reflects your best interests.

To view our full range of hearing aids in our Cleveland hearing clinic CLICK HERE.

To discuss your hearing with our Masters Qualified Audiologist Penelope Woods, call us on (07) 3821 3744.

Call Now ButtonCALL US