With so many different types of hearing aids available, knowing which one is right for you can be difficult. Whether you already have a hearing aid or are simply considering your options, at Boots Hearingcare we make it simple for you to reach a decision. We explain how hearing aids work, what to look for when choosing the right type for you, and the pros and cons of the various styles available.

Bluetooth

bluetooth hearing aidsConnect your hearing aid directly to your smartphone for hands-free calling or, use your Bluetooth hearing aid like headphones for TV and music without need to remove the hearing aid.

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Invisible

invisible hearing aidsThese custom-made hearing aids fit directly into your ear canal, making them very discrete. With fully automated technology, there’s no need to manually adjust invisible devices.

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Rechargeable

rechargeable hearing aids The latest rechargeable models offer an environmentally friendly solution as well as powerful battery technology, meaning you never have to worry about buying and changing batteries again.

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In the ear (ITE) hearing aid
In-the-Ear
Small hearing aids that are worn entirely in the ear or ear canal rather than behind it.
Receiver-in-Canal hearing aid
Receiver-in-Canal
An open-fit hearing aid that uses a thin plastic wire with a speaker at the end which is placed into the ear canal.
Behind the ear (BTE) hearing aid
Behind-the-Ear
This hearing aid is traditionally the most powerful and rests on the back of the outer ear.

What is a hearing aid?

A hearing aid is a small, wearable, battery-powered electronic device that helps those living with hearing loss to hear sounds and better understand speech. They are also used to reduce background noise so wearers can hear more clearly in noisy environments.

When are hearing aids needed?

Hearing loss is generally a gradual process, and it’s no secret that it can have a huge impact on your emotional wellbeing, your ability to work and how well you connect with others, while also increasing the likelihood of developing dementia

Hearing loss is categorised by different levels - normal hearing, mild hearing loss, moderate hearing loss and severe hearing loss. While hearing is unique to everyone, hearing aids are normally needed if you’re suffering from any form of hearing loss, even if you have a mild diagnosis.

If you’re struggling to understand speech, find yourself turning up the TV more and more, if background noise is making listening hard or you’ve noticed a significant change in your hearing, you might need a hearing aid. Contact a trained audiologist or Ear, Nose and Throat specialist if you’re struggling with your hearing.

How do hearing aids work?

Hearing aids are either analogue or digital and normally consist of three main components: a microphone, an amplifier and a speaker. 

They work by receiving sound through the microphone, which sends a signal to the amplifier, which increases the sounds and sends them into the ear via the speaker. Find out more about how hearing aids work.

What types of hearing aids are available?

Unlike older, bulkier technologies, the hearing aids you can buy today are much more advanced and are designed to be more discreet and powerful. A perfect choice given the recent demand for smaller devices. There are two main types of hearing aids available: 

  • In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids

  • Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids
     

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid styles

Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids and Invisible-in-canal (IIC) hearing aid

Both CIC and IIC hearing aids are small and discreet. Invisible-in-canal aids fit deeper into your ear canal while completely-in-the-canal aids fit entirely within the ear canal, making them the perfect option for those who don’t want to draw attention to their hearing loss or may be feeling self-conscious about wearing hearing aids. 

Pros:

  • They are discreet, making them aesthetically appealing 

  • As they fit directly within the ear, you can use headsets and telephones without removing them

  • They provide great sound quality and feel less bulky and more natural in your ear

Cons:

  • Due to their small size, they are often harder to remove and adjust, meaning those with dexterity issues might struggle with them

  • Their size means they have a reduced processing capacity, so they're not the best option for severe or profound hearing loss

  • They often have reduced battery performance

  • If you have narrow ear canals you might not be able to wear IIC hearing aids as your ear canals have to be big enough to fit them

Best for: mild to moderate hearing loss

In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids

Slightly larger than IIC and CIC hearing aids but still small and discreet, ITC aids sit comfortably in your ear canal and are often custom-made and moulded to the shape of your specific ear for the perfect fit. They are designed to fit the lower third of your external ear canal. 

Pros:

  • They are discreet and less visible than larger styles

  • They are normally custom made for the ultimate comfort

  • Usually available with a wider range of features

  • As they are slightly larger, they are much easier to handle, making them ideal for people who struggle to operate smaller hearing aids

Cons:

  • In-the-canal hearing aids are sometimes not suitable for more severe hearing loss, as they may not be powerful enough

  • As they are still relatively small, they may be difficult to remove and keep clean if you struggle with dexterity

Best for: mild to moderate hearing loss

Behind-the-ear (BTW) hearing aid styles

Receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) and Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) hearing aids

Both RIC and RITE hearing aids are designed to feature behind-the-ear components that connect to a receiver sitting within the ear or ear canal, and use a tiny wire to transmit sound. 

Pros:

  • These devices usually come with rechargeable batteries, making them a more environmentally friendly and cost-effective solution

  • The tip of RIC and RITE hearing aids sits within the ear canal without fully sealing it, making it feel more natural for the wearer

  • You have the option to change the levels of the receiver if your hearing changes or deteriorates

Cons:

  • As the speaker sits within the ear itself, they may require more regular cleaning and are more prone to damage from dirt and dead skin

  • They aren’t as discreet as other models; the hearing aid is more visible as it sits behind your ear

  • It’s harder to use a headset or telephone as it has to be held over the microphone

Best for: all levels of hearing loss

What features do you need to look out for?

While the right hearing aid will depend on several factors, from the degree of your hearing loss to your budget, there are several additional features available that could help to improve your hearing experience:

  • Rechargeable batteries: being able to recharge the batteries in your hearing aid is both better for the environment and more cost-effective

  • Telecoil technology: also known as t-coils, these are small copper wires that are added to hearing aids to pick up magnetic signals from loop systems, removing background noise and amplifying sounds directly to your hearing aid. They make it easier to hear in a range of environments such as theatres, cinemas or places of worship

  • Bluetooth compatibility: to allow your hearing aid to connect to devices such as your mobile phone or wireless speakers

  • App integration: a range of modern hearing aids also come equipped with smartphone apps where you can adjust your aids or even translate different languages 

What's the difference between open and closed fittings?

Hearing aids can be either closed or open in design. 

An open design means that the sound waves will reach your eardrum more naturally. Behind-the-ear hearing aids can have open fittings; the sound tube and earpiece sit in your external ear canal. Because the hearing aid doesn’t fill your whole ear canal, it’s possible to hear louder sounds naturally. Open-fit models also give you better ventilation of your ear canal.
A closed design means that your external ear canal is mostly filled by either an earpiece or an in-the-ear hearing aid. But this doesn’t mean that air can’t circulate – hearing aids have vents that allow air through. By fitting a closed design to your ear canal, sound is transmitted to you more directly, so the full range of your hearing aids’ features can be used more effectively.

How much do hearing aids cost?

For many hearing aid wearers, the cost of a device can be concerning. However, there are a range of devices on the market at a variety of prices and at Boots Hearingcare, our hearing aids start from just £345 for a single hearing aid and £495 for a pair. 

We also offer a range of flexible interest-free monthly payment options so you can spread the cost to better suit you. Find out more about hearing aid prices.

What other hearing designs are out there?

If none of the above hearing aids meets your hearing needs, there are other, more specialist alternatives available. Both bone conduction and bone-anchored hearing aids bypass the middle ear to transmit sound, while implants might also be a viable option. These might include middle ear implants, cochlear implants or brainstem implants.

All these specialist types of hearing aid could be available through the NHS, so speak to your GP for more information.