When considering hearing aids for the first time, many are greatly concerned with the aesthetics and size of the devices. They’re looking for small and discreet hearing aids, almost invisible to the unschooled eye.
Luckily, hearing aids come in different styles and sizes, all with their own sets of benefits and limitations. It’s important to understand what your options are, and which one’s most suitable to ensure the best hearing outcome in your individual case. Hearing aids should be worn all day, every day. So it is important to find a suitable size and style of hearing aid that you feel most comfortable wearing.
Hearing aids have downsized greatly over the years, with no more trumpets around the ears and a big box around the neck. Invisible hearing aids (RIC) and invisible-in-canal (IIC) hearing aids are the top choices and what people talk about when they’re referring to ‘invisible’ hearing aids.
Receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) hearing aids have a body piece that sits on top of the ear and is connected to an earpiece sitting in the ear canal. A thin wire holds the hearing aid in place and delivers sound to the ear.
Traditional hearing aids have a bulky body that houses all the electronic parts of the hearing aid. A plastic tube with an earpiece delivers sound to the ear. RIC, on the hand, are smartly designed so that the receiver is integrated into the wire that connects the body and earpiece, allowing the body to be significantly smaller.
RIC hearing aids are a great solution for those whose hair covers the top of their ears, making the hearing aid, practically invisible to the eye.
Invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) hearing aids are custom moulded to fit in your ears. That means that the size of an IIC depends on the size of your ear canals and the degree of hearing loss.
Unfortunately, this makes the style unsuitable for those with very narrow or bendy canals. For significant degrees of hearing loss, the electronic parts of the hearing aid might not fit in such a small space.
This style, given a good-sized ear, can be truly invisible: It sits very deep in the ear canal, almost at the eardrum. If you prefer this custom style but have narrow ear canals or a larger hearing loss you may opt for a Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) or In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid.
Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) or In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids are still custom made but will be larger to house the electronic parts, causing them to be visible at the opening of the ear.
We’ve previously examined whether invisible hearing aids are truly better than regular hearing aids. Click here to find out what we’ve learned
One style is not necessarily better than the other. But rather dependent on the individual needs and wants of the user. There are many factors to take into consideration, so it is important to discuss this thoroughly with a trusted audiologist to make an informed decision.
Due to the size of the hearing aid, invisible-in-the-canal hearing aids are most suitable for mild to moderate hearing loss. This is because the greater the level of hearing loss, the larger the receiver has to be, as more power is required to amplify sounds.
Receiver-in-the-canal hearing aids cover a larger range of hearing loss from mild to severe-profound. The receiver increases in size as hearing loss increases, but most ears are large enough to accommodate all receiver sizes without being visible. As the receiver is separate to the body of the hearing aid this maintains the discreet size of the RIC.
IIC style hearing aids fill up the ear which can sometimes feel like earplugs. Hearing loss in the high-frequency range can cause the wearer’s own voice to echo and sound distorted.
Some find this very annoying and unnatural. RIC are more comfortable for the wearer’s own voice as the earpiece does not block the ear completely.
If your main priority is how the hearing aid looks, you’ll find IIC style hearing aids more than satisfactory, as they’re completely invisible from any angle. RIC, although discreet, can be visible from the side or back – especially with shorter hair that does not cover the body of the hearing aid. The wire is very thin and almost clear but still visible upon closer inspection.
This involves inserting and removing the hearing aid correctly, changing the batteries and cleaning the device. Management of smaller hearing aids could pose a problem for those with dexterity issues.
IIC are easier to insert as there is only one part that is popped into the ear. RIC aids require the body and earpiece to be placed correctly otherwise they could fall out. Batteries for IIC hearing aids are less than 5mm in width and height and need to be changed more often.
RIC uses a larger battery but is also available in a rechargeable style. This means no disposable batteries – instead hearing aids are charged every night in a dock that is simple to use. Unless there is someone that can help, it is important to consider your ability to manage the hearing aids correctly.
If you talk on the phone a lot, listen to music or watch videos frequently it may be convenient to opt for a hearing aid that is mobile phone compatible. RIC hearing aids are Android and iPhone compatible which allows direct streaming of calls and audio straight to the hearing aids.
You can also control the volume and other features in the hearing aid via an app. IIC do not have this capability as they are limited by their size.
Each manufacturer has three to four different levels of technology to cater for different listening and lifestyle needs. High-tech hearing aids come with more features to help with sound quality, clarity and listening to background noise.
IIC is restricted by their size. That means they cannot contain as many features as a RIC. Therefore, RIC hearing aids would be more helpful in complex listening situations as their features help reduce noise and improve the clarity of speech.
IIC style while visually appealing may not be the best to help with hearing. RIC and IIC can be priced the same for the same level of technology however, as mentioned above, the RIC actually contains more features.
If there are any issues with a RIC hearing aid, troubleshooting is easier as parts can be easily accessed and changed. Issues with IIC hearing aids are more difficult to troubleshoot as all the electronic parts are encased inside the hearing aid. This would require it to be sent in for repair, which may take up to three weeks to be completed.
As mentioned, the size of the ear canal is important to determine the suitability of an IIC hearing aid. However, some may not have a complete, intact pinna for the body of the RIC to rest on. If there is not enough space behind the ear or, for glasses wearers, the hearing aid may end up competing for space and be more prone to falling off.
Every hearing aid manufacturer has its own versions of IIC and RIC hearing aids. At Attune Hearing, we put our patients first. Independent from hearing aid manufacturers, we offer a wide range of hearing aids from the leading hearing aid providers.
Each of our 50 hearing clinics will have their own preferences for style and manufacturer depending on the audiologists personal experience. Through results-focussed care, they will help you find a hearing aid that meets your individual needs and preferences.
These are the four most notable small and discreet hearing aids currently available on the Australian hearing aid market.
Traditional IIC hearing aids are made from acrylic. Due to their size and how thin the shell of the hearing aid is, acrylic shells are prone to being quite flimsy and easily broken.
Phonak Marvel Titanium uses medical-grade titanium which is 15 times stronger and 50% thinner than acrylic. This allows a reduction in size, more durability and less chance for damage particularly for those who are a bit clumsy.
This is Phonak’s newest offering for RIC style and one of the smallest and slimmest out there. It is the first hearing aid to be compatible with both Android and iPhone. Other manufacturers are tied to the iPhone for streaming calls and audio.
This hearing aid is offered in four levels of technology with a choice between disposable battery or rechargeable.
Rechargeable models from other manufacturers are always bigger than the disposable as it needs to house a larger, rechargeable battery. The Signia Pure X range offers rechargeable and disposable battery models in exactly the same size. With this hearing aid, you’ll be able to have the convenience of rechargeability without compromising style.
Described as a “contact lens for your ear” the Phonak Lyric is the first of its kind. This is not your traditional hearing aid at all, but a flexible earpiece fixed deep into the ear. This device does not need to be inserted or removed daily and there are no batteries to change!
Because of this, the Lyric does require more frequent visits to the audiologist as the earpiece needs to be changed every three to four months. It operates through a subscription service to allow this upkeep which keeps you wearing the latest technology.
This hearing aid is great for someone who does not want to fuss at all with the hearing aid. Not every hearing provider prescribes Lyric as they require special training and equipment so you may have to search around.
At the end of the day, improving your ability to hear should be the first priority. Not all IIC and RIC will be suitable for you, so consider what features and aspects of the hearing aid are most important to you.
Sometimes you may have to compromise the size and style of the hearing aid with other elements to ensure the best listening outcomes. Work together with your trusted, local Attune audiologist to find a hearing aid that you are comfortable with and motivated to wear every day.
For more information about small and discreet hearing aids or to make an appointment with a local Attune Hearing clinic, book online or give us a call!