In-ear hearing aids

Small but mighty: what you should know about the most discreet style of hearing aids on the market today.

The 3 key takeaways

  • In-ear hearing aids fit entirely in the user’s ear — While other hearing aid styles, such as behind-the-ear, have components that are worn outside the ear, these more discreet models are a compact piece worn in the ear canal or outer ear.
  • In-ear hearing aids can be purchased over the counter or from an audiologist — Audiologists sell prescription hearing aids, but people struggling with hearing loss can also purchase in-ear hearing aids directly online or at retail stores and pharmacies.
  • Some models are not suitable for every type of hearing loss — Smaller in-ear hearing aids do not have the same power as larger models, making them less suitable for people with severe or profound hearing loss.

There are so many factors to consider when shopping for hearing aids, the process alone can feel overwhelming. Which style will best fit your needs? Should you consider hearing aids with rechargeable or disposable batteries? Do you need to consult with an audiologist? Our comprehensive guide to in-ear hearing aids will answer these questions and more.

In-ear hearing aid models tend to be a good option for people experiencing mild to moderate hearing loss who lead an active lifestyle. If this describes you, continue reading to learn more about the different models and features available in these discreet hearing aids.

The different types of in-ear hearing aids

Suitable for mild to moderate hearing loss, in-ear hearing aids are custom molded to fit inside the user’s ear. Although this narrows down the scope of devices, there are still subcategories of in-ear hearing aids which come in a variety of sizes and fits.

In-the-ear hearing aids

The largest of in-ear hearing aids, in-the-ear or ITE hearing aids fit in the outer portion of the ear. This design can be made in either a full or half-shell style which is molded to fit the unique shape of the user’s ear. Full-shell models fit in the entire area of the external ear and are therefore larger than half-shells, which fit inside half of the external ear area. Some ITE hearing aids are large enough to include controls on the device, which is not the case for most smaller in-ear hearing aids.

In-the-canal hearing aids

ITC hearing aids are worn inside the user’s ear canal, with a smaller portion resting in the outer ear. This style is the second largest in-ear style of hearing aids, just behind ITE styles. Larger styles tend to allow for larger batteries, which provide the device with longer battery life and require less charging. Some ITC hearing aids have manual volume controls which do not fit on smaller devices.

Completely-in-the-canal hearing aids

CIC hearing aids were once the smallest hearing aid style on the market, but have since been replaced by the invisible-in-the-canal model. However, CICs are still extremely discreet, with only a translucent removal handle protruding from the user’s inner ear. In some devices, the faceplate may be visible; however, these are often designed to match the user’s skin tone for maximum subtlety. Most CICs automatically adjust to the environment and eliminate background noise, leaving little room or need for manual controls and buttons.

Invisible-in-the-canal hearing aids

IIC hearing aids are the smallest devices on the market today. These hearing aids fit entirely inside the user’s ear canal and are molded to have a snug and secure fit. Many audiologist offices that sell this model provide patients with a 3-D scan of the ear canal and use the data to mold the IIC based on the rendering. Because of their extremely small size, IICs do not have certain features that other hearing aids offer, such as Bluetooth capability and manual adjustment buttons.

The benefits of in-ear hearing aids

In-ear hearing aids allow users comfort, discretion, and most importantly, the ability to engage in the world around them. These devices may be small, but their features and capabilities are life-changing for millions of people who experience hearing loss.

  • Discreet. Perhaps its most popular feature, many people are drawn to in-ear hearing aids because of their compact size. Other styles have multiple pieces, some of which are worn outside the user’s ear. In-ear hearing aids, no matter which style, are always worn entirely inside the user’s ear. Features such as skin-toned faceplates also allow users to customize their hearing aid for maximum discretion.
  • Custom-made. No two ears are the same, so in-ear hearing aids must be molded to fit each user’s specific ear shape. Audiologists take an ear impression by injecting molding material with a syringe into the user’s ear. The material will harden and is then removed by the audiologist. This technique creates a model that will be used in the creation of custom-fit in-ear hearing aids.
  • High-tech. As technology advances, so does the ability to pack more features into smaller hearing aid devices. Many in-ear hearing aids contain programs set up by audiologists that will switch automatically based on the environment. They can also be connected to the user’s smartphone by Bluetooth connectivity to stream music and phone calls.
  • A secure fit. In-ear hearing aids are designed to fit snuggly, yet comfortably, inside the user’s ear. This makes them a popular choice for people who lead an active lifestyle. Physical activities such as running, biking, and other forms of exercise should not dislodge or disturb your in-ear hearing aids.
  • Options for those with dexterity issues. While the smallest in-ear hearing aid models may not be a good choice for those with dexterity issues, audiologists still recommend full and half-shell hearing aids. These models have a custom fit and require only one step to put on rather than two steps like behind-the-ear models.

The cons of in-ear hearing aids

While there are plenty of benefits to compact hearing aid models, they are certainly not the right choice for everyone. Their size and design create certain limitations which should be considered when deciding on the right model for you.

  • Small features. Since this style of hearing aid is so compact, some models can be difficult for some people to handle. Changing the battery or using manual adjustment buttons may be frustrating in the smallest in-ear models.
  • Shorter battery life. Smaller hearing aids are either powered by rechargeable batteries or disposable batteries. The smallest disposable battery, known as a “button battery” is size 10 and needs to be replaced every three to seven days.
  • Vulnerable to earwax. Because in-ear hearing aids fit entirely inside the ear, they are more susceptible to blockages from things such as earwax than other models. Users must be vigilant in keeping their ear canals and outer ears extremely clean so the hearing aid functions as it is designed to.
  • Few, if any, manual controls. This point could be considered a pro or a con, depending on the user and what they are looking for in a hearing aid. In-ear models are often too small to have many manual controls that larger hearing aids have. Some larger in-ear hearing aids have volume controls, but not all.

How to buy an in-ear hearing aid

In-ear hearing aids can be purchased over-the-counter or by a prescription from an audiologist. Which route you choose to go will impact which hearing aid brands and models are available to you. Most small hearing aid models take disposable zinc-air batteries which need to be replaced every few days or weeks. However, more hearing aid brands are beginning to offer rechargeable models. Unfortunately, most hearing aids that have rechargeable batteries tend to be bigger, behind-the-ear styles.

How to buy over-the-counter in-ear hearing aids

Thanks to new regulations surrounding hearing aids put into place by the FDA, over-the-counter options are more accessible and affordable. This allows more people to purchase hearing aids without a prescription or several doctor’s appointments. It’s important to remember that in-ear hearing aids are often only appropriate for mild to moderate hearing loss due to their size and capabilities. Additionally, OTC in-ear hearing aids will not be custom-fit and are less likely to be covered by insurance due to their limitations and relative affordability.

Below are a few of our favorite over-the-counter in-ear hearing aids:

How to buy prescription in-ear hearing aids

Patients receive more personalized care by purchasing hearing aids through an audiologist. These hearing health professionals are trained to assess your unique level of hearing loss and recommend a style and brand that will fit your needs.

  1. Talk to your healthcare provider. Oftentimes, the first step in a patient’s journey is to talk to their general practitioner about their hearing loss. Your doctor can provide helpful information and refer you to an audiologist for an in-depth assessment.
  2. Consult with an audiologist. At your audiologist appointment, your audiologist often begins by asking about the patient’s hearing history and health. Based on these answers, they will perform a diagnostic hearing evaluation which allows them to assess your degree of hearing loss. These tests will provide the audiologist with the necessary information to make a diagnosis and create a treatment plan.
    Decide on a hearing aid style. In most cases, patients work with their audiologist to choose the best hearing aid style and model. Audiologists are well-versed in the benefits and drawbacks of different hearing aids and can guide users according to their needs and lifestyle habits.
  3. Attend your fitting or follow-up appointment. Once your custom in-ear hearing aid arrives, your audiologist will schedule a visit to have it fitted and adjusted. At this appointment, your audiologist can answer any questions you may have about your new hearing aid. They will also set up any programs and adjust the volume control to fit your needs.

These are some of our favorite prescription in-ear hearing aid brands:

Explore more discreet hearing aid options by reading our best invisible list.

Hearing aids and insurance coverage

Many medical health insurance plans do not cover hearing health-related costs, including the cost of hearing aids. Some plans come with add-on coverage for hearing, vision, and dental. Always check with your health insurance provider to find out the specifics of your plan. Medicare does cover the costs of diagnostic testing, but not the cost of hearing aids or follow-up appointments.

Warranties on your new hearing aids are provided by the manufacturer. These are often one-year warranties, but in some cases, they may be longer or give the buyer the option to extend. The warranty often covers the costs of any repairs that may be needed, whether they are done by your audiologist or by the manufacturer. Sometimes, loss coverage is included in your warranty, but you might be on the hook for a deductible. Always go over your warranty coverage with your audiologist when purchasing new hearing aids.

Other types of hearing aids

Not sure an in-ear style is the right hearing aid for you? Consider these additional styles that provide different features.

  • Behind-the-ear. BTE hearing aids are the largest models on the market. They have two separate pieces, an earmould that is worn inside the ear and the main body that is worn behind the ear. These two pieces are connected by a clear, thin tube. This style is suitable for all types of hearing loss, including severe hearing loss, as it can provide powerful amplification.
  • Receiver-in-the-ear. Also known as receiver-in-the-canal (RITE/RIC), this type of behind-the-ear hearing aid also has two main parts connected by a thin tube or wire. The difference here is the speaker portion, or receiver, is in the inside portion of the device rather than the outside. Since the speaker sits inside the user’s ear canal, RITE models are known to have great sound quality and be a good option for those with moderate to severe hearing loss.

What next?

Do you think an in-ear hearing aid is the right choice for you? If you’re already a patient at a hearing center, call your audiologist to schedule a visit and go over your options. Otherwise, consider purchasing an over-the-counter option and use it for a trial period. Many manufacturers have a return period that lasts anywhere between 30 to 90 days after purchase. This gives you time to wear your hearing aids in everyday situations and see if they are the best choice for you.

Frequently asked questions

Are in-ear hearing aids better than behind-the-ear?

In-ear hearing aids are suitable for people with mild to severe hearing loss, while behind-the-ear styles are suitable for people with mild to profound hearing loss.

What is the smallest hearing aid available?

Invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) hearing aids are the smallest hearing aid models currently on the market. These hearing aids fit entirely inside the user’s ear canal and are suitable for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

What are the most comfortable hearing aids?

While this varies from person to person, BTE and RITE styles are generally thought to be the most comfortable style of hearing aid, since they minimize the ‘blocking’ sensation that some in-the-ear models can create. However, in-ear hearing aids can be custom-fitted for maximum comfort and fit.

Do in-ear hearing aids have Bluetooth?

Some in-ear hearing aids have Bluetooth connectivity, while others do not. Both the Starkey Genesis AI and the Oticon Own are Bluetooth-compatible.

What are the disadvantages of in-ear hearing aids?

In-ear hearing aids are susceptible to ear wax, which can cause them to not work as well. Also, IIC and CIC are very small to handle, which can be hard for people with dexterity issues.