Hearing aids are sound-amplifying devices designed to aid people who have a hearing impairment.
Most hearing aids share several similar electronic components, including a microphone that picks up sound; amplifier circuitry that makes the sound louder; a miniature loudspeaker (receiver) that delivers the amplified sound into the ear canal; and batteries that power the electronic parts.
Hearing aids differ by:
- technology used to achieve amplification (i.e., analog vs. digital)
- special features
Some hearing aids also have earmolds or earpieces to direct the flow of sound into the ear and enhance sound quality. The selection of hearing aids is based on the type and severity of hearing loss, listening needs, and lifestyle.
What are the different styles of hearing aids?
Analogue or digital
Analogue and digital hearing aids look very similar, but they process sound differently.
Analogue aids amplify electronic signals, while digital aids use a tiny computer to process sound. This means it is possible to customize the aid to suit your hearing loss very precisely. Many digital aids can be programmed with different settings for different sound environments, for example a quiet living room or a crowded restaurant. Some even switch settings automatically to suit the environment.
Digital hearing aids are designed to reduce background noise, which makes listening in noisy places more comfortable. They are also less likely to ‘whistle’, or give feedback.
Behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids
BTE aids have an earmould that fits snugly inside your ear, while the rest of the aid rests behind your ear. Some models have twin microphones, which let you switch between all-round sound and a more directional setting that helps you focus on what you want to hear in noisy places.
BTE hearing aids with ‘open ear fitting’ have a small, soft earpiece at the tip of the tubing instead of an earmould. This type of fitting can be less noticeable than an earmould but is only suitable if your hearing loss is mild or moderate. It can give you a very natural sound.
Receiver in the ear (RITE) hearing aids
Receiver in-the-ear (RITE) (or loudspeaker in-the-ear) aids are often smaller than BTE aids because some part of the device sits inside the ear. Like open ear BTEs, they can be easier to put in than an earmould if you find fiddly tasks awkward.
There are different RITE hearing aids for different levels of hearing loss. If your hearing loss is severe, you may need a type where the receiver sits in an earmould.
In the ear (ITE) hearing aids
These fit entirely into your ear. The working parts are either in a small compartment clipped to the earmould or inside the moulded part itself. ITE aids tend to need repairing more often than BTE aids.
Completely in the canal (CIC) hearing aids
These are even smaller than ITE aids, so they are less visible. They are unlikely to be suitable if you have severe hearing loss or frequent ear infections.
Body worn hearing aids
These have a small box that you clip to your clothes or put in your pocket. This is connected by a lead to the earphone. Some people find the controls less fiddly than those on smaller hearing aids. Some body-worn aids are very powerful.
Bone conduction hearing aids
These are for people with conductive hearing loss or people who can’t wear conventional hearing aids. They deliver sound through the skull via vibrations. Find out more about them in our factsheet Bone conduction hearing aids.
Think you may have hearing loss?
Take our online hearing test simulator or visit a hearing professional in your area for a comprehensive hearing evaluation.
This test should take less than 5 minutes.