(Last updated Nov 25, 2020)

Hearing Aid Styles and Types

With all the different hearing aid styles and sizes, it can be difficult to know which to buy.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a style, such as your lifestyle, budget, hearing loss, and cosmetic preferences.

In this post I’ll review each style so you can get a better idea of the best one for you.

Prefer a video? Watch: Hearing Aid Styles Explained

What are the Different Styles of Hearing Aids?

Hearing aid styles range from the completely invisible in-the-ear devices, to large and powerful behind-the-ear devices.

Each of these styles has an acronym by which it’s identified.

For example, the smallest style available is called an “IIC,” which is an acronym for invisible-in-canal.

Hearing aid styles (smallest to largest):

Below is an overview of each style, including pros & cons.

Let’s start with the smallest first.

Invisible-in-Canal Style Hearing Aids

IIC
iic style hearing aid
PROS
CONS
  • The most discreet fit possible
  • Lack of occlusion
  • Reduced wind noise
  • Less likely to feedback

Advantages of IIC Hearing Aids

The most discreet fit possible: IIC hearing aids sit so deep inside the ear canal that they’re usually completely hidden.

Lack of occlusion: A common complaint of people who wear in-the-ear hearing aids is having a feeling that their head is in a barrel when they talk. This sensation is known as the occlusion effect. Because IICs sit deep in the bony portion of the ear canal, occlusion is less of an issue.

Reduced wind noise: Some hearing aid styles unintentionally amplify the wind, because their microphones sit outside the ear. This creates an unpleasant scratchy noise. The microphone of an IIC hearing aid sits recessed in the ear canal, which prevents it from amplifying the wind as it passes by the ear.

Less likely to feedback: The speaker of an IIC hearing aid sits close to the eardrum, and as a result, doesn’t have to provide as much amplification as other styles do. This reduced amplification also serves to reduce the chances of that annoying whistling sound that some hearing aids make, which is called feedback.

Disadvantages of IIC Hearing Aids

Short battery life: IIC hearing aids use the smallest batteries, and they need to be replaced every 2-5 days.

Can be difficult to handle: Changing batteries and general maintenance requires excellent dexterity. If you have poor feeling in your fingers IICs are not a good choice.

Limited features due to size: In order to make IICs as small as possible, the manufacturer can only leave room for essential features. As a result, you won’t find features like Bluetooth or background noise reduction in this style.

More likely to breakdown: The ear is a tough environment for the parts inside hearing aids. And because all the parts of an IIC sit inside the ear, they’re going to breakdown, requiring frequent repairs.

Not suitable for severe to profound hearing loss: IICs are so small that they can’t provide the power that larger hearing aids can. This means if you have severe to profound hearing loss IICs will not work for you.

Completely-in-Canal Style Hearing Aids

CIC
cic type hearing aid
PROS
CONS
  • Relatively discreet
  • Easier to manipulate than an IIC because it’s larger
  • Will fit a larger amount of ears vs an IIC
  • Can sometimes be “instant-fit”

Advantages of CIC Hearing Aids

Relatively discreet: Though not the most discreet style available, this is still one of the least noticeable styles. Usually, just the faceplate of the hearing aid will be visible to others, and maybe part of the pull string used to remove the hearing aid.

Easier to manipulate than an IIC because it’s larger: Although still requiring good dexterity, CICs are easier to handle because they’re a few millimeters larger than CICs.

Will fit a larger amount of ears as compared to an IIC: Most people that want to wear CIC hearing aids can, and a good fit can be achieved. This is in contrast to the IIC style, which requires a particular diameter, bend, and length of the ear canal to fit properly.

Can sometimes be “instant-fit”: The instant-fit CIC is a new style of hearing aid. An instant-fit CIC is not a custom-fit product, it’s available “off-the-shelf.” Instant-fit CICs fit entirely within the ear canal just like a CIC does, and sometimes deeper. This style is only appropriate for people with mild hearing loss.

There are two main benefits to instant-fit CIC hearing aids. First, there’s no wait time to get the hearing aid built. Second, occlusion is reduced as a result of the aid not being custom-molded.

Few manufacturers offer instant-fit hearing aids, but here’s a video of the most popular one, Signia Silk.

Disadvantages of CIC Hearing Aids

All of of the above disadvantages from the IIC style also apply to the CIC style, in addition to:

Users wearing CICs are more likely to complain of occlusion: The CIC doesn’t fit deep within the bony portion of the ear canal like the IIC does. As a result, wearers often complain of a “plugged up” sensation.

In-the-Canal Style Hearing Aids

ITC
in the canal hearing aid style
PROS
CONS
  • Large enough for on-board controls
  • Easier to handle than IIC and CIC styles
  • Improved battery life vs IIC and CIC
  • Large enough for features like directional microphones

Advantages of ITC Hearing Aids

Large enough for on-board controls: ITCs have room for at least a push-button, which allows you to change settings of the hearing aids, like the volume. While most hearing aids today can auto-adjust or be controlled through an app, on-board controls can be nice to have.

Easier to handle than IIC and CIC styles: ITC hearing aids are much easier to handle and maintain because they’re significantly larger.

Improved battery life vs. IIC and CIC: Most ITC hearing aids have a battery life of at least a week.

Large enough for features like directional microphones: ITC hearing aids are the smallest custom style that will allow for technology like directional microphones. This important feature serves to improve speech clarity in noisy situations.

Disadvantages of ITC Hearing Aids

More likely to break down needing repairs: Like all custom hearing aids, ITC hearing aids are more prone to breaking down. These repairs are covered by a warranty, but it’s hard being without your hearing aids while they’re repaired.

More likely to amplify wind noise: Unlike CIC and IIC hearing aids, in which the microphone sits inside the ear canal and is hidden from the wind, the microphone on an ITC hearing aid sits in the concha (bowl) of the ear canal and is exposed to wind. As a result, when wind passes over the ear, the microphones can sometimes amplify it.

In-the-Ear Style Hearing Aids

ITE
PROS
CONS
  • Large enough for on-board controls
  • Very easy to handle
  • Great battery life of 7-14 days
  • Large enough for on-board controls
  • Large enough for features like directional microphones

Advantages of ITE Hearing Aids

Easy to handle: The ITE is perhaps the easiest style to handle. It has relatively large parts which are easy to see and maintain. Another benefit is, in most ears, ITE hearing aids really “pop” into place nicely and are easy to remove.

Good battery life: Compared to the other custom styles, ITE hearing aids usually use a large battery and can sometimes provide power for 10+ days.

Large enough for on-board controls: The ITE style is large enough that there’s usually room for both a push-button and volume control.

Large enough for features like directional microphones: Due to the large size of ITE hearing aids, there is no compromise necessary when it comes to features. Whether it’s Bluetooth or directional microphones, ITEs can house the most advanced technology available.

Disdvantages of ITE hearing aids

Very noticeable: This may not be a disadvantage at all! But it’s worth noting that if you want your hearing aids to be hidden, ITE is not the right style.

More likely to amplify wind noise: The microphone on an ITE hearing aid is exposed to wind as it passes over the ear. This can sometimes lead to the wind being amplified and making a sort of “shh” sound.

Finally, a disadvantage that applies to all custom hearing aids- they’re usually more expensive than the non-custom styles (below).

Because custom hearing aids are built to each individual’s ear, a proper fitting takes more time and involvement from a hearing care provider, which tends to increase the prices of these styles.

Receiver-in-Canal Style Hearing Aids

RIC
RIC type hearing aid
PROS
CONS
  • Most natural sound quality
  • Most comfortable fit
  • Wide fitting range
  • Very discreet fitting
  • Large enough for latest technology like Bluetooth & rechargeability

Advantages of RIC Hearing Aids

Most natural sound quality: Custom-fit hearing aid (like the above styles), plug up the ear canal. This means that almost all sound that reaches the eardrum has been processed by the hearing aid. This can result in an artificial sound quality.

In contrast, RIC hearing aids allow for the ear canal to remain open, allowing certain sounds to pass through the ear canal as they naturally would without being amplified. This results in a more natural sound quality.

Most comfortable fit: Because the RIC style leaves the ear canal open, RIC hearing aids feel more comfortable than other styles. In fact, many wearers report that they completely forget they’re wearing their RIC hearing aids.

Wide fitting range: Receiver in canal (RIC) hearing aids are one of the few styles that will work with all hearing losses, from mild to severe, and sometimes profound. How is this possible? While most people wear RIC hearing aids with a silicone dome in what is called an “open-fitting,” this is not the only way to wear it. A RIC hearing aid can also be worn with a custom earmold, which drastically increases the amplification it’s capable of providing.

Very discreet fitting: Many people new to hearing aids are opposed to hearing aids which sit on the outer ear and are visible to others. People are pleasantly surprised when they try on a RIC. It is a discreet style and most people will never notice if you’re wearing a RIC. The receiver wire that leads into the ear canal is thin and nearly transparent, and the hearing aid sitting on top of the ear can be matched to most hair colors.

Large enough for the latest technology like Bluetooth & rechargeability: When you buy a RIC hearing aid, you never have to wonder if you’re getting state of the art technology. Anytime a manufacturer releases new technology, it’s always available in their RIC hearing aid styles first.

Disadvantages of RIC Hearing Aids

Receiver wire needs replacing: The receiver wire is the weakest link on a RIC hearing aid. It is normal to replace a receiver wire every year or two. These wires get brittle over time, or simply get overwhelmed with wax or oil and need to be replaced.

Receivers usually have a multi-year warranty which matches the warranty of the hearing aids. However, once the warranty has expired receivers can range from $75-$150 each.

Behind-the-Ear Style Hearing Aids

BTE
PROS
CONS
  • Most reliable style
  • Low maintenance
  • Most powerful style
  • Large enough for latest technology like Bluetooth & rechargeability
  • Easy to put on and take off
  • Wide fitting range

Advantages of BTE Hearing Aids

Most reliable style: BTE hearing aids are considered “workhorses.” Because both the microphone and receiver are housed behind the ear and protected from the warm and oily environment inside the ear canal, this style tends to last longer than others and requires less repairs.

Low maintenance: There isn’t much that can go wrong with a BTE. They require simple and routine cleaning to prevent excessive wax and moisture buildup.

Most powerful style: The BTE style is always the strongest style a hearing aid manufacturer makes. BTEs are known to “pack a punch” that other styles can’t match. For this reason, BTEs are preferred by wearers with profound hearing losses.

Large enough for the latest technology like Bluetooth & rechargeable batteries: Just like the RIC style, BTE hearing aids have room for the latest technologies like Bluetooth, directional microphones, and rechargeable batteries.

Easy to handle: It doesn’t get much easier than a BTE, especially when worn with a large custom mold. Just put the mold in the ear and flip the hearing aid up behind the ear and you’re good to go.

Wide fitting range: Just like RIC hearing aids, BTEs have a wide fitting range. They can be worn “open-fit” with a small silicone dome in the ear, or with a custom earmold to provide more power.

Disadvantages of BTE Hearing Aids

Tubing needs frequent replacing: The tubing on BTEs needs to be replaced routinely or it gets hard and cracks. As a result, the tubing leaks sound and begins to feedback or whistle. Many hearing providers instruct BTE wearers on how to change this tubing at home and it can be ordered online inexpensively.

Very noticeable: Again, not necessarily a disadvantage! In fact, many BTE wearers want their hearing aids to be seen so others know to speak clearly and face them while speaking.

Hearing aid earmold styles

If you buy a BTE or RIC and have a severe to profound hearing loss, your hearing provider will probably recommend you get a custom-built earmold. A custom-built earmold allows the hearing aid to provide greater amplification.

With the help of your hearing provider, you’ll have to decide which earmold type you want to use. The earmold styles you’ll have to choose from are generally similar in appearance to all the above-mentioned custom in-the-ear styles.

Although an older article, here’s a great resource to learn more about earmolds and all the variations and implications for selecting the right mold style.

Which Style Should You Choose?

There could be several different styles of hearing aids that seem like they’re a good fit for you.

My recommendation? Start with the one that sounds the most ideal to you.

If you love the idea of the invisible-in-canal style and feel like they’d make you happiest and you’d be more likely to wear them, then try those first!

Anytime you buy hearing aids you should have a trial period. If you aren’t satisfied with a particular hearing aid style, then you can exchange and try another.

Hearing aids today are more dynamic and capable than they’ve ever been, and hearing aid satisfaction rates continue to rise.

With patience and a trusted hearing provider to guide you, I’m confident you’ll be able to find the right style!

Jeff Hall Jeff Hall Jeff is a California licensed hearing aid dispenser and the President of ZipHearing- one of the largest discount hearing aid suppliers in the United States. Jeff lives in San Diego, CA with his wife and 2 young daughters. You can learn more about hearing aids and watch Jeff on ZipHearing's Youtube channel.

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17 comments
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