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Hearing Aid Types Explained

Updated: March 27, 2023
By: Jonathan Trout
Jonathan Trout
Content Manager
Jonathan is a former product and content manager for Retirement Living. His background spans sales/marketing, finance, and telecommunications. Jonathan’s expertise in consumer wellness and research-backed data stories helped educate seniors on financial planning, retirement, and community resources. Jonathan graduated from Oklahoma State University with a B.S. in Environmental Sociology.
Content Manager
Edited by: Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith
Sr. Content Manager
As Retirement Living’s senior content manager, Jeff oversees the product and publishing of all retirement, investing, and consumer wellness content on the site. His extensive expertise in brand messaging and creating data-driven stories helps position Retirement Living as a top authority for senior content and community resources.
Sr. Content Manager

If you’ve ever shopped for hearing aids, you know there are a lot of options available. You’ll find a bevy of types and sizes, each one touting a list of unique features. And of course, there’s a wide range of price points.

So how do you know what hearing aid is best? While the search can seem overwhelming, if you know how bad your hearing loss is and take some time to test different models, it’s actually not difficult to find what you need.

Hearing Aid Types

As a general rule, the trend in recent years has been towards smaller, less noticeable hearing aids. But it’s likely that the smaller hearing aids won’t provide enough amplification for people with severely reduced hearing, so smaller isn’t always better.

It’s also important to note that no hearing aid can restore lost hearing and no hearing aid eliminates all background noise. If you see one making these claims, it may be best to look at another brand.

Here’s a look at the types of hearing aids on the market and the advantages of each.

  • Completely-In-Ear Hearing Aid Best for mild to moderate hearing loss

    Known as a CIC model, a completely-in-ear hearing aid is designed to fit entirely in the ear canal. In most cases, they’re actually molded to specifically fit the wearer’s ear. This is the smallest and least visible type of hearing aid and as such uses very tiny batteries (which may have a short life and may be difficult to insert and remove). Additionally, these types of hearing aids can sometimes become clogged with earwax, making them sound muddied until cleaned. You won’t find fancy features like volume control, but if you just want a simple device to get the job done, this is what you should look for.

  • In-The-Canal Hearing Aid Best for mild to moderate hearing loss

    In-the-canal hearing aids, which you may see as ITCs, are custom molded like a CIC model, but they only fit partially in the ear canal. This is one of the less visible and smaller styles, and like the CIC, it’s susceptible to clogging and can be tricky to operate or replace batteries. But since it’s a larger device and not entirely down in the ear canal, you may see some features not found on smaller models. Another advantage of the in-the-canal opposed to the completely-in-canal models mentioned in the previous section, is that they may be more comfortable for people who have small ear canals.

  • In-The-Ear Hearing Aid Best for mild to severe hearing loss

    An in-the-ear hearing aid, also known as ITE, is usually found in two styles. One is built to fit in the ear’s entire bottom half while one fits only partly in the bottom half of the ear. There’s not much of a performance difference between the half shell or full shell, just a matter of comfort. Since this is a full-sized hearing aid compared to the smaller “in-canal” models, you’ll start to find extra features like volume control and a greater amplification for more severe hearing loss, but you will likely have some more wind noise and it’s going to be more visible. A hearing aid of this size is also easier to operate for hands that have lost some dexterity and has a longer battery life.

  • hearing aid types

    Source: Getty
  • Behind-The-Ear Hearing Aid Best for mild to extreme hearing loss

    The behind-the-ear or BTE hearing aid is the more traditional style that’s been around for many years. This style fits your ear in two parts – one that slides over the top of your ear and hangs behind it and an earpiece in the ear canal with a small tube connecting the two parts. Some newer models are more streamlined and smaller, but this is usually the biggest and most visible type of hearing aid. Of course, that means it’s capable of more amplification than any other model. The large size also means it’s less likely to get lost and will hold the longest battery life.

  • Receiver-In-Canal and Receiver-In-Ear Hearing Aid Best for mild to extreme hearing loss

    The receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aid and the receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) hearing aids are both pretty similar to the behind-the-ear hearing aid, but a small wire connects the two parts instead of a tube. You’ll get the same benefit of greater amplification and a longer battery life, but the behind-the-ear portion is significantly less visible.

  • Open Fit Hearing Aid Best for mild to moderate hearing loss

    Like the behind-the-ear models, an open fit model of hearing aid comes in two parts connected by a small tube but an open fit hearing aid sits in the large opening of the ear rather than plugging the canal, letting more sound enter the ear naturally. Since the ear canal isn’t plugged, the wearer’s voice sounds a little more natural.

How to Choose The Right Type of Hearing Aid

Now that you know what types are available, how do you decide which one you need? To start, you should visit with a doctor if you haven’t already. Many people find they’re losing their hearing and start researching hearing aids only to learn their hearing loss is being caused by earwax or other debris or they could correct their hearing better with a prescription.

Once a doctor confirms your hearing loss, it’s probably a good idea to be checked by an audiologist. They will analyze your ears and determine how bad your hearing loss is and what type of hearing aid you need.

When you have your recommendation, consider your lifestyle along with your prescription. Research multiple brands as different brands fit differently and have varying features. Are you frequently involved in group conversations? Do you spend much time outdoors? Most hearing aids have a free or low cost/no obligation trial period to find out if the device is right for you, so test the exact model you’re interested in.

Keep in mind, each hearing aid type mentioned above can be customized or include various state-of-the-art technology.

The Bottom Line On Hearing Aids

Even with an over-the-counter model, hearing aids have proven to drastically improve hearing in many patients, and in turn, improving speech.

If you think you need hearing aids, don’t let a stigma in your mind keep you from getting them. Forty-eight million Americans have hearing loss, so you’re not alone. Whether it’s because of price or because of appearances, only about 20 percent of people who could benefit from hearing aids actually wear them. But technology is always improving, meaning today’s hearing aids are more affordable, more discreet, and more effective than ever before.