Audiologist Doing A Hearing Test

The Pros & Cons of Different Hearing Aid Types

Though a majority of people who ultimately choose hearing aids to wait a decade before doing so, they almost universally report positive experiences. The benefits include improved relationships and more confidence in the workplace, among others. What’s more, scientists agree that wearing hearing aids could seriously lower your risk of cognitive disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. 


So why wait? One reason might be anxiety around making a decision in terms of which type of hearing aid you invest in. To be certain you’re choosing the right match for your hearing loss and lifestyle, make an appointment with a trained audiologist. They’ll perform a simple hearing test before deciding if you are a good candidate for hearing aids. From there, they can use your results to make recommendations for you to take into consideration. Ultimately, the decision is yours alone, though moving through the process with a trained hearing health professional will certainly make that easier. 


Why hearing aids can help

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the ear itself is damaged due to illness, injury, medications, and genetic conditions. However, the two most likely culprits are the natural aging process and exposure to excessive noise. Our hearing is dependent upon tiny, delicate cells located within the inner ear. They perform the vital duty of receiving sound waves from the outside world, converting them to sound information and passing it along to the brain via the auditory nerve. These cells become damaged over a lifetime of simple existence or when dangerously loud noise harms them. 


As we lose healthy inner ear cells, we also lose access to some of the sounds of the external world. Initially, we will often lose high-frequency sounds, like children’s voices or birdsong. Hearing aids work by making everyday sounds louder, so that our inner ear cells get more sound and our brains, in turn, receive more sound information. 


How hearing aids work

Simply put, hearing aids amplify the volume of the external world and deliver that sound directly to your ears. A hearing aid is made up of three simple components: a microphone, an amplifier, and a speaker. The microphone picks up the sound and converts it to digital information, the amplifier makes it louder and the speaker delivers it to the ear. 


While the fundamentals of hearing aids are simple, the power and processing of different models rely on complex technology. In previous generations, hearing aids did just make sound louder. Today, hearing aids scan the environment and external noise for the most important sounds, so that they can selectively amplify voices and not unnecessary background noise. They can be programmed to specific patterns of hearing loss to bump up certain frequencies that may be lost due to hearing damage. 


Overview of the types of hearing aids

Hearing aids are categorized by the way they sit in relation to the ear. The smallest models can sit inside the ear canal. 


Invisible in canal

This type of hearing aid sits entirely within the ear canal.

Pros: cosmetically appealing, minimal

Cons: requires dexterity, suitable for mild to moderate hearing loss, fewer programming options


Completely in canal

These hearing aids are almost completely invisible, with a small handle that may be visible to others depending upon the anatomy of your ear.

Pros: cosmetically appealing, minimal

Cons: requires dexterity, suitable for mild to moderate hearing loss, less programming options than larger models


In the ear

These types of hearing aids are custom-fit sit within the ear canal opening and are visible to others.

Pros: suitable for more severe hearing loss, easy to use, more program options

Cons: visible to others, feedback can be a problem, more expensive


Receiver in canal

In this model, the microphone and amplifier sit behind the ear while the speaker is housed within the ear. The two parts are connected by a wire. 

Pros: subtle design, less feedback, great sound quality, breathable feeling in the ear

Cons: less compatibility with phones, more noticeable


Behind the ear

Similar to the previous type, an earpiece sits inside the ear and connects to the body of the hearing aid behind the ear. 

Pros: good for all types of hearing loss, breathable feeling in-ear, less feedback

Cons: less compatibility with phones, more noticeable


Hearing aids require a period of adjustment

Investing in hearing aids is more than just flicking a switch and experiencing better hearing. That may happen to you, but you’ll likely have a period of adjustment while you get used to your new hearing aids. Remember that you (and your brain) are learning a new way of doing something, now that the old way doesn’t work. 


At first, learning a new pattern after spending decades comfortably and unconsciously performing the old way will feel effortful. For that reason, we recommend that you begin using your hearing aids for small periods at first before working up to longer durations. 


And, like any new skill, practice is important! While it might take some getting used to, wearing your hearing aids regularly will help to usher in a new era in your listening life.