When you find that you need a hearing aid, you may be aware that you currently have two categories from which to choose: standard hearing aids (in-the-ear or behind-the-ear hearing aids) or open fit hearing aids (also known as open ear hearing aids). Each of these types of hearing aids has both pros and cons, but, more importantly, each type is most beneficial for a particular type of hearing loss. It is important to research both in order to determine which will work for you.
In-the-Ear and Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aids: An Overview
Standard hearing aids have come a long way from the days of body or eyeglass hearing aids. Those old-style products were large and bulky and usually inconvenient to wear. Thanks to the miniaturization of electronics, today's in-the-ear and behind-the-ear hearing aids are available in extremely small sizes. In-the-ear hearing aids can be so small that they fit completely within the ear canal and are nearly invisible, while even behind-the-ear hearing aids have become so small as to be difficult to see. However, the greater the gain required for the user, the larger the hearing aid must be in order to accommodate it. Yet even the largest behind-the-ear hearing aids still are much more discreet than their predecessors.
Open Fit Hearing Aids: An Overview
Open fit hearing aids are also extremely small and nearly invisible to an observer. They work via a clear tube that comes from behind the ear and rests in the ear canal. However, unlike with standard hearing aids, there is no earmold to occlude the ear canal when open fit hearing aids are worn — the clear tube is extremely thin and leaves the canal open. Open fit hearing aids are also lightweight — many users find that after a few minutes of wearing them, they cannot feel them at all.
Standard Hearing Aids: Pros and Cons
Standard hearing aids have many benefits for the wearer. Both in-the-ear and behind-the-ear hearing aids are ideal for anyone who does not have normal low frequency hearing. In addition, because of their size, even as small as they have become in recent years, in-the-ear and behind-the-ear hearing aids have room on them to fit many options: telecoils, volume controls, and memory push buttons.
However, no matter how small in-the-ear or behind-the-ear hearing aids have become, both types will always occlude the ear canal to some extent. This means they are not well suited for someone who has good low frequency hearing, because the occlusion causes what some call the "barrel effect" — sounds are muted and the user may feel like he or she is listening to the outside world from inside a barrel. However, for someone with poor low and high frequency hearing, behind-the-ear or in-the-ear hearing aids are often the best choice.
Open Fit Hearing Aids: Pros and Cons
The biggest benefit to open fit hearing aids is that they have no occlusion. For those who have normal low frequency hearing but who are experiencing problems with high frequencies — which usually occurs with early hearing loss — open fit hearing aids are ideal. They are extremely lightweight and nearly invisible as well. And although they utilize the latest technology, they should not cost much more than in-the-ear or behind-the-ear hearing aids, and may even cost the same. If you find that you are a candidate for open fit hearing aids, make sure that you shop around to find the best product at the price, as you would for any large purchase. Open fit hearing aids are also easier to fit because they are not custom made, unlike many in-the-ear hearing aids; they work directly out of the box.
Because of their size, open fit hearing aids cannot offer some of the options that behind-the-ear or in-the-ear hearing aids have available, such as telecoils. In addition, they are fully automatic and so do not offer volume control, which may be seen as a benefit for some users but a negative for those who want more control over their hearing aids.
Both standard and open fit hearing aids are made with the same type of technology. Both types of hearing aids are available from some manufacturers with directional microphones, which can be a benefit for users who may encounter noisy situations, such as being in a restaurant or sitting with more than one person at a time, and who want to be able to hear individual speakers better. Behind-the-ear hearing aids, in-the-ear hearing aids, and open fit hearing aids may all also offer multiple memory options.
In addition, open fit, in-the-ear, and behind-the-ear hearing aids are all easily adjustable. Some manufacturers may even offer the option of adjusting the hearing aids over the Internet, as well as in person, at a store or an audiologist's office. Open fit hearing aids can be as easily adjusted as behind-the-ear hearing aids.
While open fit, in-the-ear, and behind-the-ear hearing aids each offer pros and cons, the bottom line is that it is important to find the product that is best suited for your type of hearing loss. Make sure that any type of hearing aid you purchase leaves you with room for adjustment if your hearing changes over the next few years. And as always, make sure that you work with an audiologist that you trust when purchasing your hearing aids — do not ever feel bullied into buying one or the other type of hearing aid unless you are sure that it will offer you the appropriate benefits. If you do your research, you are sure to find the right hearing aid that will improve your quality of life for years to come.