Behind-the-ear hearing aids
Many people who get NHS hearing aids have behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids. They rest behind your ear and send sound into your ear in one of three different ways:
- Through a piece of clear, flexible tubing connected to an earmould that fits inside your ear.
- Through very thin, clear tubing connected to a small, soft tip (dome) that sits inside your ear canal. This is known as an open ear fitting. Because it blocks the ear less than an earmould, it can give you a more natural sound and is less noticeable. But it’s only suitable if your hearing loss is mild or moderate. It’s unlikely to be suitable if you have frequent ear infections or find fiddly tasks awkward.
- Through a wire, which runs from the hearing aid to a tiny loudspeaker held in the ear by a soft tip. There are many different terms for this type of aid – such as 'receiver in the ear', 'receiver in the canal' and 'loudspeaker in the ear'. Like open ear fittings, they are not suitable for all levels of hearing loss. They're also likely to be unsuitable if you have sight loss or find fiddly tasks awkward, or if you have frequent ear infections.
In-the-ear and in-the-canal hearing aids
In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids and in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids have their working parts in the earmould, so the whole aid fits into your ear. ITE aids come in different sizes and strengths, but they can all be seen in the ear from the side. ITC aids are smaller and less visible as they fit right inside your ear canal.
If you have severe hearing loss, very small ear canals or frequent ear infections, ITC hearing aids probably won’t be suitable for you. If you have trouble using small controls, these aids may not suit you unless they come with a remote control.
Completely-in-the-canal hearing aids
Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit further into your ear canal than ITC aids. They are less visible unless someone looks closely at your ear. As these hearing aids are very small, it’s unlikely that they’ll have features like a hearing loop setting because they are too small to carry the technology. This type of hearing aid isn’t usually available from the NHS.
Invisible-in-the-canal hearing aids
Invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) hearing aids are new, and available to buy privately in a few hearing aid services. They are fitted very deeply in the ear canal. Some IIC models stay in your ear for a few months at a time and can only be removed by your audiologist, who will maintain and clean the aid for you. You can take other models out of your ear by yourself. IIC aids are only suitable if you have a mild to moderate hearing loss and, like CIC aids, they may have limited features.
If you are interested in hearing aids that fit inside your ear, an audiologist will help you to decide which type is best for you. It will depend on your hearing loss, the size of your ear canals, your lifestyle and how much money you wish to spend if you’re buying privately.
Other types of hearing aids
Body-worn hearing aids have a small box that you can clip to your clothes or put in your pocket. This is connected by a lead to an earmould or a soft tip. This type of hearing aid may suit you if you have sight problems, or have difficulty using very small buttons. Some models are very powerful.
CROS/BiCROS hearing aids are for people with hearing in one ear only. CROS hearing aids pick up sound from the side with no hearing and feed it into the hearing ear. BiCROS aids amplify sound from both sides and feed it into the better hearing ear. There are now wireless versions available from the NHS.
Bone-conduction hearing aids are for people who can’t wear conventional hearing aids or those with a conductive hearing loss. This type of hearing aid delivers sound directly to the cochlea (hearing organ), through the skull, using vibrations. One kind involves wearing a headband or glasses that have a bone conductor attached; the other involves having an operation behind the ear to implant a permanent fixture in the bone, which removes the need to wear a headband. A small sound processor, called a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA), clips on to this fixture.
See our factsheets and leaflets for more information about hearing aids. You can also order them from our Information Line free of charge on 0808 808 0123 (freephone) or email email@example.com.