Digital hearing aids are made in five major styles and are categorized by where on or in the ear they fit. Each hearing aid Type has its own characteristics, benefits and problems. Generally you would decide what type of hearing aid you would like, but the audiologist would tell you which type of aid would suit your hearing loss. There are other factors to take into account, such as skin problems, dexterity and features set of the hearing aid.

Mini-Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aid (mBTE)

This type goes by various names, including receiver-in-the-canal (RIC), receiver-in-the-ear (RITE), receiver-in-the-aid (RITA), and canal receiver technology (CRT). With RIC hearing aids, the receiver (the speaker that sends sounds to the inner ear) is inside the ear canal. It attaches to the ear via a thin wire and a custom-made earmold (a piece of soft material made to fit snugly in the ear and channel sound into the ear), or a noncustom dome-style ear-canal piece.

Pros: Comfortable, barely visible. Prevents a plugged-up feeling (especially when using an open ear tip, which is appropriate if you can hear well in the low pitches). Larger versions are easy to insert.

Cons: Wax and moisture buildup may limit the life of the receiver. Does not allow for significant amplification, especially in the low frequencies.

Traditional Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aid (BTE)

In this group of aids, which sometimes includes RITA hearing aids, all electronic components are in the plastic case worn behind the ear. Sound is sent to the ear through the tubing that connects the case to the receiver and a custom earmold worn in the ear canal.

Pros: Considerable low- and high-frequency amplification. Offers flexible features and considerable amplification, making it good for those with severe hearing loss. On larger, traditional models, controls are easy to manipulate and the telecoil mode is easily selected and used (see below for more information on the telecoil). The custom-made earmold can be easily cleaned. Accommodates larger batteries for more power.

Cons: Some custom molds are visible (clear molds are not). Vulnerable to sweat and wax buildup, but the tubing and mold are easily cleaned. The earmold must fit snugly and fill the entire ear canal, which can cause a plugged-up feeling. On a positive note, feedback is rare because of the snug fit.

Completely-in-the-Canal Hearing Aid (CIC)

Pros: Recessed into the ear canal and fits deep and tight in the ear. Minimal feedback when used with a phone. Because it’s in the canal, it has low visibility and can be removed with a removal string. Less sensitive to wind noise.

Cons: Too small to include a directional microphone (which reduces background noise by picking up sound from a specific direction), but often has some directional sensitivity. Ear might feel plugged up unless hearing aid is vented. Vulnerable to wax buildup and moisture. It can accommodate only a small battery, so battery life is relatively short, and typically only powerful enough for milder hearing loss. Because of their small size, the batteries can be difficult to insert and remove. The aid may be challenging to handle and adjust.

In-the-Canal Hearing Aid (IIC)

Pros: Barely visible, less of a plugged-up feeling because the aid sits deep in the canal. Larger units can include directional microphones.

Cons: Discomfort is an issue for many, along with the concerns that are typically associated with completely-in-the-canal models. These models are susceptible to moisture, and the receiver is vulnerable to clogging from earwax. The battery tends to be small, so battery life is relatively short. May be challenging to handle and adjust.

Traditional In-the-Ear Hearing Aid (ITE)

All electronic components are included within the case, which rests in the bowl of the outer ear.

Pros: Offer more room for features such as telecoil, directional microphone, and wireless streaming. Less of a plugged-up feeling when vented. Relatively easy to insert.

Cons: Some people consider ITE units to be more visible, and the telecoil may not be as powerful as those on BTE hearing aids because they are smaller in size.