A common misconception about hearing aids is that they are big and ugly. However, with advancements in technology, there are now more options than ever before when it comes to hearing aids. In fact, most people are pleasantly surprised when they see just how small and discreet a hearing aid actually is.
Despite this, some people are still concerned about the perceived stigma surrounding wearing hearing aids, or just don’t want something that others can see. While there are certainly some extremely small (receiver-in-canal or completely-in-canal styles), and even some invisible (invisible-in-canal style), hearing aids available, smaller isn’t always better when it comes to hearing aid technology.
- If you’re interested in one of the invisible-in-canal (IIC) hearing aid styles, be aware that they are designed to sit deep in the ear, close to the eardrum. For this style to be completely invisible, your ear canal needs to be a certain length and size so that all of the hearing aid components can fit in a part of your ear where it’s not visible. If you’re prone to wax build-up in your ear, then you will need to clean the hearing aid extremely well, and regularly, for it to function optimally. This style tends to be problematic if you have excessive wax problems. As the hearing aid sits deep in your ear, in a waxy, warm environment for extended periods of time, expect it to need more regular servicing. This can also be a problem, although to a lesser extent, for completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aid styles.
- IIC and CIC style hearing aids are ‘omnidirectional,’ meaning they only have one microphone. Although the hearing aid will have noise reduction features, this single microphone will pick up all sounds around you with minimal discrimination. If you struggle to hear well in noise (this can be tested by hearing specialists at some clinics only), then this style isn’t ideal for you. It might work extremely well in quieter environments, but you will find that you struggle to hear one sound over another when in the presence of background noise. This is when hearing aids with ‘directional microphones,’ that is two microphones as found in receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aid styles, can work more effectively. Directional microphones will focus more on the sounds in front of you while simultaneously reducing sounds to your sides and behind you in noisy environments.
- If you want the ability to adjust the hearing aid yourself, for example the volume, only some IIC, CIC and mini RIC styles offer this, limiting your hearing aid options. These styles won’t offer you any on-board controls, so you most likely need to purchase an additional accessory to enable these adjustments if compatible. You will need to consider if this is something you’re likely to carry around with you.
- Some people are interested in hearing aids with a telecoil, or T-switch, which enables access to hearing loops in public places or in some telephones. While a telecoil isn’t for everyone, if this is something you’re interested in, you won’t find them in IIC, CIC or mini RIC style hearing aids.
- Hearing aids can be compatible with Bluetooth-enabled devices. This means streaming music from MP3 players, movies or music from your computer or phone calls from your mobile phone, for example. While not for everyone, this is an appealing feature. IIC hearing aid styles aren’t compatible for streaming Bluetooth (they’re simply too small to fit the electronic components that enable this) and the ones that are compatible are generally larger.
If you’re interested in an invisible or extremely discreet hearing aid, consider what features you would like it to have – if you’re not willing to give up some of the features discussed above, or your hearing specialist doesn’t recommend some of these styles due to your hearing ability in noise or limitations of your ear canal, you might have to consider other options.
The good news is that while they may be larger than you initially hoped for, these ‘larger’ options are still very discreet. The best way to find out just how discreet they are is to have a chat to your hearing specialist – let them show you your options so that you can choose the most suitable option for your situation.