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Types of hearing aids

In this section we will give you an idea about the different options available.

For more detailed information, you can look at our hearing aids factsheets and leaflets.

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 customise 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.

Digital hearing aids on the NHS are available as standard on the NHS. This was not always the case – and we played a large part in Making It Happen(external link, opens new window). Our large-scale lobbying campaign saw members send 50,000 letters to MPs and helped persuade the NHS to increase funding for audiology services, especially the provision of digital hearing aids.

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(PDF 368, opens new window).

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