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Types of Hearing Aids

Behind the ear aids (BTE)

BTE aids consist of a case, a tube and an earmold. The case is small and made of plastic. Generally, the case sits behind the pinna (ear) with the tube coming down the front into the earmold. The case contains the amplification system. The sound is routed from the hearing aid case to the earmold via the tube. The sound can be routed acoustically or electrically. If the sound is routed electrically, the speaker (receiver) is located in the earmold, rather than in the case. The earmold is created from an impression taken of the individual's outer ear. This usually ensures a comfortable fit and reduces the possibility of feedback. Earmolds are made from a variety of hard (firm) and soft (pliable) materials. The color of the case and earmold of a BTE aid can be modified and optional decorations can be added.

BTEs can be used for mild to profound hearing loss. Due to the electrical components being located outside the ear, the chance of moisture and earwax damaging the components is reduced. This increases the durability of a BTE aid and with proper care it can last for a number of years. BTEs can be connected to assistive listening devices, such as FM systems. An important aspect of the BTE aid is that the case and earmold are separate which makes it easier to replace the earmold. BTE aids are commonly worn by children who need a durable type of hearing aid. As children get older, they will require new earmolds on a regular basis; for example, babies may need earmolds replacing as often as every two weeks.

Recent innovations in BTEs include miniature BTEs with thin hair-like sound tubes (see open-fit devices below). These are often less visible than In-The-Ear aids (ITEs). They use a larger vent than other hearing aid types. This keeps the ear canal more open, which allows sound to enter the ear without being amplified. This is helpful for listeners with normal hearing in the lower frequencies. Miniature BTEs are generally used for mild to moderate high frequency losses.

In the ear aids (ITE)

These devices fit in the outer ear bowl (called the concha); they are sometimes visible when standing face to face with someone. ITE hearing aids are custom made to fit each individual's ear. They can be used in mild to some severe hearing losses. Feedback, a squealing/whistling caused by sound (particularly high frequency sound) leaking and being amplified again, may be a problem for severe hearing losses. Some modern circuits are able to provide feedback regulation or cancellation to assist with this. Another way to deal with feedback is venting. The vent is a tube primarily placed to offer pressure equalization. However, different vent styles and sizes can be used to influence and prevent feedback .  Traditionally, ITEs have not been recommended for young children because their fit could not be as easily modified as the earmold for a BTE, and thus the aid had to be replaced frequently as the child grew. However, there are new ITEs made from a silicone type material that mitigates the need for costly replacements.

Receiver In the Canal/Ear (RIC/RITE)

At a first glance, these devices are similar to the BTE aid. There is however one crucial difference: The speaker ('receiver') of the hearing aid is placed inside the ear canal of the user and thin electrical wires replace the acoustic tube of the BTE aid. There are some advantages with this approach: Firstly, the sound of the hearing aid is arguably smoother than that of a traditional BTE hearing aid. With a traditional BTE hearing aid, the amplified signal is emitted by the speaker (receiver) which is located within the body of the hearing aid (behind the ear). The amplified signal is then directed to the ear canal through an acoustic tube, which creates a peaky frequency response. With a RITE hearing aid, the speaker (receiver) is right in the ear canal and the amplified output of the hearing aid does not need to be pushed through an acoustic tube to get there, and is therefore free of this distortion. Secondly, RITE hearing aids can typically be made with a very small part behind-the-ear and the wire connecting the hearing aid and the speaker (receiver) is extremely inconspicuous. For the majority of people this is one of the most cosmetically acceptable hearing device types. Thirdly, RITE devices are suited to "open fit" technology (see below) so they can be fitted without plugging up the ear, offering relief from occlusion.

In the canal (ITC), mini canal (MIC) and completely in the canal aids (CIC)

ITC aids are smaller, filling only the bottom half of the external ear. You usually cannot see very much of this hearing aid when you are face to face with someone. MIC and CIC aids are often not visible unless you look directly into the wearer's ear. These aids are intended for mild to moderately-severe losses. CICs are usually not recommended for people with good low frequency hearing, as the occlusion effect is much more perceivable.

Invisible In canal hearing aids (IIC)

This type of hearing aid fitting is not visible when worn. This is because it fits deeper in the canal than other types, so that it is out of view even when looking directly in to the ear bowl (concha). A comfortable fit is achieved because the shell of the aid is custom-made to an individual ear canal after taking a mould of the patient’s ear. Invisible hearing aid types use venting and their deep placement in the ear canal to give a more natural experience of hearing. Unlike other hearing aid types, with the IIC aid the majority of the ear is not blocked (occluded) by a large plastic shell. This means that sound can be collected more naturally by the shape of the ear, and can travel down in to the ear canal as it would with unassisted hearing. Instead of taking out the IIC to change memory or volume settings, some allow the wearer to use their mobile phone as a remote control to alter settings. IIC types are most suitable for users up to middle age, but are not suitable for more elderly people.

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