Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing Last updated 2021-09-28T00:00:00-05:00
You’ve been diagnosed with hearing loss and your hearing care professional recommends hearing aids. Thanks to today’s technology, you have a variety of styles and manufacturers to choose from, including some which fit so discreetly they are virtually invisible. Which one should you choose?
The most discreet small hearing aids include custom "in the ear" (ITE) styles, such as "completely in the canal" (CIC) and "invisible in the canal" (IIC). Both of these types fit deep inside the ear canal, hidden in the contours of the ear.
Although social stigmas may have you leaning toward smaller, more discreet custom devices, these models aren’t suitable for everyone. How do you know if they are right for you? Here are a few pros and cons for you to discuss with your hearing healthcare professional.
Advantages of small hearing aids
Attractive and discreet
These devices are as close to being invisible as they get.
There are no external tubes or wires.
Because they are lightweight and custom molded to fit inside your ear canal, they are comfortable for most wearers.
Their position inside the ear canal makes it easier to use telephones and headsets.
The outer ear protects them, making them less likely to pick up wind noise when you're enjoying outdoor activities.
They can result in more natural sound for some wearers. Their location in the ear canal can reduce the bothersome "occlusion effect," which is sometimes described as sounding like you are talking "in a barrel."
These small hearing aids aren't suitable for people with severe, more advanced hearing loss. They work best for mild to moderate losses. If your hearing loss is worse than that, you may hear better wearing a behind the ear (BTE) model, which can pack more power inside.
They don’t fit in everyone’s ear canal. Those with short or differently-shaped ear canals can’t wear them.
Small size means some trade-offs
You'll change batteries more often. Smaller hearing aids mean smaller disposable batteries, which can't hold power as long. If you prefer rechargeable batteries, you'll need a BTE model.
Features can be limited. There isn’t enough room for directional microphones, one of the most helpful hearing aid technologies for hearing in background noise. Consider your listening environments. What sounds do you most want to hear? If you are a student, still employed, or find yourself in a lot of social situations involving noisy restaurants, family gatherings or public transportation, the technology in a BTE may be more suitable for your lifestyle.
The controls are harder to see and feel, and the batteries can be tricky to replace, so small hearing aids aren’t suitable for those with vision and/or dexterity problems
If your hearing care professional discourages you from wearing small custom hearing aids, it doesn't mean you are destined for devices that won't suit your style.
Small hearing aids aren't the only types that can be super discreet. Inconspicuous behind-the-ear hearing aids called receiver in the ear (RITE) or receiver in the canal (RIC) have surged in popularity in recent years in part because they are extremely discreet when worn. The devices themselves are small and sleek, fitting snugly behind your ears. They are coupled to the ear canal with a very thin, clear tube that will easily go unnoticed. The colors of the devices are designed to blend with most any hair or skin color.
RIC and RITE devices are lightweight, comfortable and can be fit on wearers who have even a severe hearing loss. They are easy to see and easy to handle, so they are often a satisfactory solution for people who don't want their hearing aids noticed.
Talk to your hearing healthcare professional
If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. This isn’t a decision you have to make by yourself. The personal information you discuss with your hearing healthcare professional -- such as lifestyle needs, listening environments and budgetary concerns -- will help determine which hearing devices are best suited for your hearing loss.
Debbie Clason holds a master's degree from Indiana University. Her impressive client list includes financial institutions, real estate developers, physicians, pharmacists and nonprofit organizations.
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