According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 17 percent of American adults report some degree of hearing loss, but only one out of five people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wears one.
Hearing loss tends to affect men more often than women and there is a strong relationship between age and reported hearing loss: 18 percent of American adults 45-64 years old, 30 percent of adults 65-74 years old, and 47 percent of adults 75 years old or older have a hearing impairment.
First, it’s important to think about the type of device you need.
The Mayo Clinic developed the following list of hearing aid styles:
Completely in the canal
Completely-in-the-canal hearing aids are molded to fit inside your ear canal and can improve mild to moderate hearing loss in adults.
A completely-in-the-canal hearing aid:
- Is the least noticeable in the ear
- Is less likely to pick up wind noise because the ear protects the instrument
- Is easy to use with the telephone in most cases
- Uses smaller batteries, which typically don’t last as long as larger batteries
- Doesn’t contain extra features, such as volume control or directional microphones
In the canal
An in-the-canal hearing aid is custom molded and fits partly in the ear canal, but not as deeply as the completely-in-the-canal aid. This hearing aid can improve mild to moderate hearing loss in adults.
An in-the-canal hearing aid:
- Is less visible in the ear
- Is easy to use with the telephone
- Includes features that won’t fit on completely-in-the-canal aids, but the small size can make the features difficult to adjust
- May not fit well in smaller ears
A smaller version of the in-the-canal hearing aid, the half-shell is custom molded and fills the lower portion of the bowl-shaped area of your outer ear. This style is appropriate for mild to moderately severe hearing loss.
A half-shell hearing aid:
- Is bigger than an in-the-canal hearing aid
- Is a little easier to handle than are the smaller hearing aids
- Includes additional features, such as directional microphones and volume control
- Fits most ears
In the ear (full-shell)
An in-the-ear (full-shell) hearing aid is custom made and fills most of the bowl-shaped area of your outer ear. This style is helpful for people with mild to severe hearing loss.
An in-the-ear (full-shell) hearing aid:
- Is more visible to others
- May pick up wind noise
- Contains helpful features, such as volume control, that are easier to adjust
- Is generally easier to insert into the ear
- Uses larger batteries, which typically last longer and are easier to handle
Behind the ear
Behind-the-ear hearing aids hook over the top of your ear and rest behind the ear. The hearing aid picks up sound, amplifies it and carries the amplified sound to an ear mold that fits inside your ear canal. This type of aid is appropriate for almost all types of hearing loss and for people of all ages.
A behind-the-ear hearing aid:
- Is the largest, most visible type of hearing aid, though some new versions are smaller, streamlined and barely visible
- Is capable of more amplification than are other hearing aid styles
These are usually very small behind-the-ear-style devices, although larger behind-the-ear devices can be modified for a more “open” fit. Sound travels from the instrument through a small tube or wire to a tiny dome or speaker in the ear canal. These aids leave the ear canal open, so they’re best for mild to moderate high-frequency losses where low-frequency hearing is still normal or near normal.
An open-fit hearing aid:
- Is less visible
- Doesn’t plug the ear like the small in-the-canal hearing aids do
- May use very small batteries
- Often lacks manual adjustments due to the small size
We asked Mary Horsch, an audiologist with Via Christi Rehabilitation Services, what questions should be asked when purchasing a hearing aid:
- Ask about the warranty – specifically the length and coverage (i.e. damage, loss, repair).
- Ask about technology – There is a lot of difference in a basic digital hearing aid vs. a very technologically advanced aid.
- Ask about style – In-the-ear vs. behind-the-ear vs. receive in the ear. Not everyone is able to wear each style based on ear size and amount of hearing loss.
- Ask about pricing and what is included through the facility/company where the aid is purchased.
- Be sure a trial period is included (this may include a small fee).