The Audiologists.org Reviews Team puts in the hours. Check out how we get to our recommendations.

Types of hearing aids

As technology advances, so do the options patients have when it comes to finding the perfect device to support their hearing health.

Medically reviewed by

Danielle Morgan

Updated:

May 13, 2024

An elderly man with a BTE hearing aid touches his ear. An elderly man with a BTE hearing aid touches his ear.

The 3 key takeaways

  • More people need hearing aids than use them — Data from the National Institute of Health shows that only 30% of older adults that could benefit from a hearing aid have ever used one.
  • Hearing aids can be purchased over-the-counter or by a prescription — Anyone experiencing mild to moderate hearing loss can pick up a pair of hearing aids on their next trip to the store. People with more severe hearing loss should schedule a visit with an audiologist and may need prescription-quality hearing aids.
  • Prescription hearing aids often cost more — These hearing aids are often customizable and need to be fitted by an audiologist, making them more expensive.

Anyone struggling with hearing loss will know the frustration of not being able to hear and communicate effectively. By using a hearing aid, a small electronic device that fits in or around a patient’s ear, a person is able to turn up the volume on the world around them.

Amplified sounds are sent to the patient’s ear and allow them to participate in conversations they’d otherwise miss. Hearing aids come in many different sizes and types, so it’s important for patients to know their options.

Parts of a hearing aid

All hearing aids have the same key features. These are the basic elements that allow hearing aids to pick up sounds and transmit them to your ear at a louder volume.

  • Microphone. Just like a standard microphone, this piece picks up sound and transmits it to the amplifier.
  • Amplifier. The amplifier is responsible for making environmental sounds louder or raising the volume of the sounds it receives from the microphone.
  • Receiver. The receiver takes the louder sounds and sends them to the user’s ear.
  • Batteries. Most hearing aids are powered by small batteries called button batteries that can be purchased at convenience stores and pharmacies. These batteries often have a lifespan of between three and 20 days, so it’s always smart to have extras on hand. Some hearing aids use rechargeable batteries and a docking station, which allow them to be recharged overnight. Learn more about the differences between rechargeable and replaceable batteries in hearing aids.

Prescription hearing aids

In order to receive a prescription-grade hearing aid, a patient must visit an audiologist who will assess their needs. Audiologists are professionals trained to test a patient’s degree of hearing loss and fit them for a hearing aid.

Audiologists can program, clean, and perform maintenance on your hearing aids for the life of the device. It’s important to consider the benefits and drawbacks when it comes to deciding if you want to pursue a prescription-grade hearing aid.

Pros

  • Customized. By seeing a specialist, patients can receive a more personalized assessment. Audiologists are trained to gauge each person’s degree and specific type of hearing loss. An audiologist will also ask the patient about their lifestyle, and help them decide which type of hearing aid will work best to meet their needs.
  • Audiologist-approved. Not all clinics carry all kinds of hearing aids. By purchasing a hearing aid through a prescription, you are getting a device that your audiologist understands in-depth and stands behind. Prescription-grade hearing aids come with a warranty, the length of which depends on the brand and model. Your audiologist will walk you through the details and coverage of the warranty associated with your device.
  • Long-lasting. Because hearing aids are a financial investment, patients want to be sure their devices will continue to work for years to come. Hearing aids should be worn every day, so maintenance and cleaning to keep your devices in good shape is not only important but necessary. On average, hearing aids last between three and seven years, depending on the technology and style of the device.

Cons

  • Cost. A prescription hearing aid will, on average, be more expensive than an over-the-counter option. They range in price from $1,000 to $4,000 each. It’s important to know if the cost of your hearing aid includes services such as maintenance and adjustments. Some clinics, but not all, bundle these services, meaning you don’t have to pay extra down the road. States have different requirements when it comes to insurance plans and covering hearing aids.

Over-the-counter hearing aids

In 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set up new regulations regarding the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids.

The new ruling establishes certain requirements that hearing aids need to meet in order to be on the market. It also has amended existing rules to provide more consistency across the devices in the hearing aid category. This is good news for those who choose to buy their hearing aids over the counter, as it allows accessible, effective, and safe products.

When deciding if over-the-counter hearing aids are the best option, you should consider the following pros and cons.

Pros

  • Affordability. Over-the-counter hearing aids are much less expensive than prescription options. Some models cost as little as $100 for a pair. This affordability allows greater access to patients who may not have insurance or the funds to pay for the latest model of hearing aids.
  • Quick and easy to get. Shoppers can conveniently pick up a pair of hearing aids on their next trip to the pharmacy if needed. This cuts down on the wait time of making an appointment with an audiologist and waiting to be seen. Hearing aids can even be ordered online and delivered to your door within a few days.
  • Many are audiologist-approved. There is a great range of over-the-counter hearing aids on the market, many with the latest technology. For example, Jabra hearing aids are approved by audiologists with prescription-quality features but can be purchased online without a prescription.

Cons

  • Often not customizable. While audiologists can often fit hearing aids to each individual’s ear, over-the-counter devices come as is. There is no way for the patient to try them on ahead of time, so the fit and size will not be as customized.
  • Some are only renamed amplifiers. Hearing aids should not be confused with personal sound amplification products (PSAP), which are also called amplifiers. PSAPs are designed for people with normal hearing who want to amplify their surrounding sounds in certain settings, like when you go birdwatching. Be sure the product you choose is clearly labeled ‘hearing aid’ on the package to avoid purchasing an amplifier.
  • Cheap can mean cheap. In the world of hearing aids, as with most technology, you get what you pay for. Don’t expect a pair of $100 hearing aids to be top-of-the-line or last for years to come.

How many types of hearing aids are available?

  • In the ear (ITE). ITE hearing aids fit completely inside the user’s outer ear. The casing which contains all of the technology is often made of hard plastic and requires a snug fit for comfort and wearability.
  •  In the canal (ITC). An ITC hearing aid is a type of ITE and is a smaller device worn inside the ear canal. The outside portion of this hearing aid can still be seen, but it is designed to fit the shape of the wearer’s ear canal. ITCs are compact but have a great ability to block out background noise and amplify conversations.
  • Completely in the canal (CIC). Another type of an ITE device, a CIC hearing aid fits entirely inside the user’s ear canal, making it the most discreet option. Because CICs are smaller than some other options, they are often not as powerful and may have fewer features. These hearing aids are not recommended for children or people with severe hearing loss.
  • Behind the ear (BTE). BTE hearing aids have three parts and are larger than the other previously described styles. The plastic hearing aid casing is connected to a tube that then connects to a small dome or custom earmold that sits in the ear canal. The hearing aid casing usually sits outside of and behind the user’s ear, giving it this name. These types of hearing aids often have many features, and are a good fit for people with nearly any degree of hearing loss.
  • Receiver in the canal (RIC). Similar to the BTE style, a receiver in the canal or receiver in the ear hearing aid uses a small wire, rather than a tube, to connect the hearing aid casing to the receiver. These hearing aids often have a smaller and more discreet hearing aid casing that can be hidden behind the ear. An RIC aid is suitable for nearly every type of hearing loss

How do I get a hearing aid?

  • Take an online hearing test. This is a basic first step that will help determine whether you should be tested for hearing loss in a clinical setting.
  • Visit an audiologist. Audiologists go through intensive training to be able to accurately diagnose a patient’s degree and type of hearing loss. Talking to a professional is the best way to gain more understanding of your hearing level and find out which devices could work for you.
  • Discuss your options. Audiologists can provide insight into the pros and cons of either over-the-counter or prescription hearing aids. Over-the-counter options are only available for patients 18 years and older who have mild or moderate hearing loss. Children and patients suffering from severe hearing loss will have fewer options.
  • Get fitted. Should you choose a prescription-grade hearing aid, you will get fitted by your audiologist. They can show you the features of your specific device, give advice as to how to put them on and take them off, how to change the batteries, and more.

Frequently asked questions

How do I adjust my hearing aid?

If your hearing aid is squealing, whistling, or just not sitting right in your ear, it’s best to visit an audiologist for an adjustment.

Your hearing aid may need to be reprogrammed or adjusted to fit better in your ear, which are both things an audiologist can help with.

Why are hearing aids so expensive?

Hearing aids tend to be expensive for many reasons. There is a lot of research and development that goes into each product.

Companies are trying to make devices that are smaller and more discreet, yet still powerful and effective.

Additionally, prescription-grade hearing aids often come as part of a package that includes a warranty, maintenance, and updates provided by a trained audiologist.

Where can I purchase over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids?

The FDA’s final ruling on OTC hearing aids gives customers more options and accessibility to these devices.

Some popular stores that sell OTC hearing aids are Wal-Mart, CVS, and Best Buy. You can also purchase them online.