The hearing aid industry has undergone some major changes in the last few years, not only in terms of technology, but in terms of available styles as well. Until recently, ‘invisible’ hearing aids referred to the completely-in-canal (CIC) style hearing aid which, while discreet, can’t technically be called invisible. Recent years have seen the evolution of the invisible-in-canal, or IIC, hearing aid style. This is considered to be the most discreet hearing aid style that, given the right ear canal, can truly be considered invisible, just as its name implies.
So, if you’ve been procrastinating about getting hearing aids due to how they look, right now is the best time to have a discussion with an audiologist about whether an IIC hearing aid might be suitable for you. All major hearing aid manufacturers now offer an IIC hearing aid in their portfolio of hearing aids, including Starkey SoundLens, Phonak Virto nano, Oticon Intigai, Unitron Quantum2 microCIC, Resound Verso IIC, Bernafon Acriva IIC, Sonic Bliss IIC, Siemens Eclipse and Widex Mind/Menu IIC.
Do all IICs look the same? In short, no. Starkey led the IIC evolution, setting the bar for other manufacturers to follow suit. Starkey’s SoundLens is designed ideally to sit at the second bend in the ear canal, making their IIC one of the deepest sitting, and therefore one of the most invisible, hearing aids on the market. Other manufacturers such as Phonak, have designed their IIC to sit at the first bend of the ear canal. Neither is better than the other, as both can be invisible in the ear when fitted to the right ear canal. This might be something your audiologist discusses with you should you be a good candidate for this style.
Another thing that might narrow down your options is the technology level available for certain IIC models. Some manufacturers offer an IIC hearing aid at 3 technology levels, others at 2 technology levels, and some only offer this style at a premium technology level. Additionally, manufacturers like Starkey, Phonak and Unitron offer IIC hearing aids that can be adjusted by the hearing aid wearer, while others don’t allow for this. Once again, depending on your needs, your audiologist will help guide you in making your decision.
Here are a few other things to consider when deciding whether an IIC hearing aid might suit you. Firstly, IICs are currently suitable for mild to moderate hearing losses. They simply aren’t powerful enough for more severe hearing losses. Making them more powerful usually means making them larger, as more space is required to accommodate larger and more powerful electronic components. Conversely, if you have some very good low pitch hearing, then this might not be the most suitable hearing aid style for you, as the hearing aid physically sitting in your ear canal will block your natural hearing and you might find that your own voice, in particular, sounds very unnatural. Secondly, they can be invisible in the ear; however, it does depend on the shape and size of your ear canal. In order to fit all the components (like microphones, batteries, amplifiers etc) into the hearing aid, your ear canal must be long enough, not too narrow and not too bendy (otherwise you’d have some difficulties inserting the hearing aid). There are also some medical conditions of the ear that might affect the suitability of this style of hearing aid for you. Thirdly, due to its placement deep in the ear canal, the hearing aid is constantly in a warm, oily, possibly slightly moist environment, meaning it might need more frequent servicing and/or repairs. Repairs are generally carried out by the manufacturer, which means that you might be without your hearing aid for up to 2 weeks. Lastly, IICs use size 10 batteries, the smallest hearing aid battery available, which means more frequent battery changes (approximately every 3-5 days, depending on use).
If this sounds good to you but you’re still concerned about managing the hearing aid, or simply don’t want the hassle of having to manage a hearing aid on a daily basis, then there’s another option that might suit you. Phonak offer another IIC hearing aid called Lyric. Unique to the hearing aid industry, Lyric, now in its third generation, can be worn 24/7 (including when sleeping or showering) and its battery lasts up to 2 months. It is a premium technology hearing aid that you subscribe to, rather than purchase outright. The benefits of this are that you’re fitted with the latest technology Lyric hearing aid as soon as it becomes available. All that’s required is a visit to your audiologist when it’s time for a new device. No cleaning, no battery changes, no hassles. As with other IICs, it doesn’t suit everyone, so the audiologist will need to discuss the pros and cons with you (N.B. only some clinics offer Lyric, as special training is required to become a certified Lyric provider).
Interested in something discreet, but not sure you like the idea of something deep in your ear? There are still some very small receiver-in-canal (RIC) options available. RIC hearing aids tend to suit to more ear canals, and can quite often be fitted to you on-the-spot, as there is often no need for anything to be made specifically to fit your ear. There is a small part of the hearing aid that sits behind you ear, with a very thin wire running down from this, leading to a receiver (or speaker) in your ear. Not invisible, but extremely discreet. This style is not limited by the severity of your hearing loss, length and size of your ear canal and is less prone to requiring frequent repairs compared to an IIC hearing aid.
So if you, like many others, have been putting off having a hearing test & hearing aid discussion for a while now because you’re worried about how wearing a hearing aid might look, there are many discreet and some invisible hearing aid options currently available on the market. There’s nothing to lose by taking the first step, which is simply to make an appointment to see an audiologist, who can complete a comprehensive hearing test & discuss your most suitable hearing aid options with you.