A guide to invisible hearing aids
Discreet hearing aids fit deep in the ear canal are known as invisible-in-the-canal (IIC)
Often, people who are new to hearing aids hope to get "invisible" hearing aids—the kind that tuck into the ear canal, essentially disappearing.
It's understandable why: Hearing loss is still heavily stigmatized in our society, something we tend to perceive as "old." However, it's not hearing aids, it's the hearing loss. When you wear hearing aids, it's actually the opposite: You won't constantly be asking "what?" or smiling and nodding when someone asks you an important question.
That said, you may have a strong preference for wearing hearing aids that only you know about. If so, you may be a good candidate for an invisible hearing aid, known medically as an "invisible-in-the-canal" (IIC) hearing aid. [A similar style, known as "completely in the canal" (CIC), also sits in the ear canal, but not quite so deeply].
The thing is, while discreet, CIC hearing aid styles don't work well for everyone, especially kids and people with profound hearing loss. They are best suited for people with mild to moderately severe hearing loss. Other factors—such as your dexterity, technology needs and lifestyle—are also taken into account when your hearing care provider makes a recommendation for a hearing aid.
What's inside an invisible hearing aid?
Considering their tiny size, invisible hearing aid pack a lot of technology into a device about the size of a candy corn. Most models contain:
On the outside: Most brands offer IIC hearing aids with shells (the exterior) in different skin tones, to enhance the invisibility of the devices. Some may have a push-button to let you change the volume, change the setting or mute the devices. There is also an "on/off" switch and a vent to let air through, and sometimes a pull-out string.
Even if you don't have severe asymmetrical hearing loss, it's important to know which hearing aid is for your left or right ear. The blue dot or text indicates left, and red means right.
Advantages of invisible hearing aids
Similar models: In-the-canal and full-shell
In some cases, a hearing care provider may recommend other in-the-ear models that aren't quite as small or discreet as IIC hearing aids. These include in-the-canal, half-shell and full-shell hearing aids.
Common brands of invisible hearing aids
All the major hearing aid manufacturers have a line of invisible hearing aids. Some popular brands include the Oticon Own, Starkey's Evolv and Picasso, Phonak's Virto, and Resound's Key. The Lyric hearing aid from Phonak is unique in that it doesn't need to be removed for daily activities like exercising or sleeping. Oticon's Own comes with Bluetooth.
FAQ: Invisible hearing aids
Which is the most invisible hearing aid?
Virtually all of these models mentioned above will be invisible to people around you. There is not a large difference among them in style or appearance.
Are invisible hearing aids effective?
Yes, the sound quality tends to be excellent, and similar to behind-the-ear models.
How do I know if they'll fit and stay in my ear?
Your hearing care provider will measure your ear canal and select the right size, ensuring a good fit. If you're nervous, your provider likely offers a trial period so you can see if they work well for you. Tip: Make sure to try them with your phone.
How do you remove invisible hearing aids?
Each brand's design is a little different, but most contain a small pull-out string to make them easier to remove.
Can hearing aids be left in ear overnight?
They can, but this is not recommended, as it will use the battery supply unnecessarily. Hearing aids must be removed for showers and swimming.
How far into the canal should a hearing aid go?
They do sit deep within the canal, to make them "invisible."
Do they require maintenance?
Yes, you'll need to learn how to replace the battery and clean the devices, such as removing any earwax and changing out the filter. Your hearing aid will come with a multi-tool to make these tasks easier. You'll know when the battery life is running out when you hear beeps.
Make sure to keep follow-up appointments with your hearing care provider so they can adjust the sound settings, if needed. Sometimes it takes some trial-and-error to get the amplification right, depending on your environment and lifestyle (for example, if you're a musician).
How do I insert them? Remove them?
Put the tip of the device in your ear canal, and gently pull your ear back as you push the device in. It should fit comfortably within the ear. To remove them, gently tug on the pull-out string or device.
How much do they cost?
A pair of prescription hearing aids (any style) typically cost between $1,000 and $6,000. When OTC hearing aids become more common, this price may get lower.
Where can I get invisible hearing aids?
Invisible hearing aids are available at hearing clinics near you. Be careful if you buy online, as the fit and quality may not be as good as the brands sold at clinics.