What hearing aid is best for me?
With dozens of features, sizes, and styles, deciding on a hearing aid can feel overwhelming. Read more about the factors you should consider when shopping for your next hearing aid.
With so many variations of hearing aids on the market, you could easily spend weeks comparing different brands and styles. As technology advances, so do the features and capabilities of these small devices.
Audiologists are trained to test a patient’s hearing and recommend hearing aids for each situation. Your audiologist will consider factors such as your lifestyle and activities, your degree of hearing loss, and even the size and shape of your ear canal before recommending the best hearing aid for you.
How does a hearing aid work?
Hearing aids are small, electronic devices that are worn on, within, behind or around the ear of a person with hearing loss. They use three parts — a microphone, an amplifier, and a speaker — to transmit louder sounds into the user’s ears. Hearing aids amplify sounds of the environment through the use of either analog or digital electronics.
Prescription vs. over-the-counter hearing aids
While certain types of hearing aids can only be purchased with a prescription and the help of an audiologist, the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) approved the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids in August 2022 in an effort to make them more affordable and accessible.
Every insurance plan is different, and while some plans provide coverage for hearing tests and hearing aids, others do not. Always check with your health insurance provider first to know exactly what will be covered.
Medicare does not cover the costs of hearing aids but will cover hearing tests if medically necessary.
Pros of prescription hearing aids
- Customizable to your diagnostic hearing test. Audiologists perform hearing tests that assess your degree and specific type of hearing loss. After this, they can recommend the hearing aids that will best meet your needs.
- Many have rechargeable batteries and Bluetooth capabilities. Many newer prescription hearing aids can be charged overnight, similar to a cell phone. They can also connect to smartphones and other forms of technology for easy listening. Talk to your audiologist about what you’re looking for in a hearing aid so they can find the type that works best for you.
- Quality is all but guaranteed with every brand. Standards for hearing aids are regulated by the FDA through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). This provides consumers with quality devices and sets the industry standard. Additionally, audiologists in clinics often only sell certain brands of hearing aids that they are trained on and familiar with, giving patients the best first-hand knowledge.
Cons of prescription hearing aids
- Cost. Hearing aids are expensive, averaging between $2,000 and $3,000 for each device. This price often includes the fitting by an audiologist and maintenance during the device’s warranty period. However, this isn’t always the case, so be sure to check with your audiologist to know what’s included with your purchase.
- They will absolutely help, but they are not a cure. Hearing loss is frustrating to deal with, and while hearing aids are a beneficial tool, your sense of hearing can never be recovered.
Major retailers offer over-the-counter hearing aid options that tend to be more affordable than prescriptions. Just last year the FDA issued a new ruling which provides better access to devices for millions of Americans with all types of hearing loss.
This has opened up the market to make hearing aids more affordable while still meeting industry standards.
Pros of over-the-counter hearing aids
- Most are much more affordable than prescription hearing aids. Retailers such as Walmart, CVS, and Best Buy offer hearing aids for as inexpensive as $100 per device.
- You can get them without a prescription or clinic visit. Access to over-the-counter options allows customers to purchase a pair of hearing aids at pharmacies and retail stores. Skipping the audiologist visit or hearing test can save you time and money.
- Some are Bluetooth-enabled, allowing for self-adjustment. OTC brands like Jabra Enhance are keeping up with technology, allowing users to connect their hearing aids via Bluetooth to their smartphones. Some OTC devices even allow you to stream music and make calls.
Cons of over-the-counter hearing aids
- Most only work for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. OTC hearing aids are not designed for people with severe or profound hearing loss, as they are not powerful enough to suit their needs.
- Quality and professional support is not guaranteed. Without the help of an audiologist, patients are left to self-diagnose their own hearing problems and choose a hearing aid themselves. This allows freedom and flexibility, but removes the insight and advice a professional can offer.
- You usually can’t customize them to a diagnostic hearing test. Prescription hearing aids are fitted and programmed for each individual, while OTC options are not. This means they won’t necessarily fit your specific hearing needs.
Are all hearing aids built the same way?
There are two different ways that hearing aids are built: analog and digital. Analog systems are limited by their technology, while digital hearing aids are more advanced.
Analog hearing aids
Analog or programmable hearing aids are often the less-expensive type of hearing aid, as the technology is not as advanced. This type of hearing aid uses electrical signals to amplify sound waves, creating a louder, crisper sound.
Digital hearing aids
Digital hearing aids use numerical codes rather than electrical signals to amplify sound to the user’s ear. These hearing aids use code similar to the binary code in a computer. The digital code allows audiologists more control over how they adjust and tweak each hearing aid to meet the user’s specific needs.
So which type of hearing aid is right for me?
Hearing aid styles are often broken down into two main categories: Behind-the-ear (BTE) and In-the-ear (ITE). However, there are many different distinctions between these two categories.
Learn more about the different designs to help determine which could be a good choice for you.
This style of hearing aid tends to be larger than others, as it includes three parts. The hearing case sits behind the user’s ear, which gives the device its name.
BTE hearing aids work for any degree of hearing loss, from mild to profound. It is a good choice for someone shopping for a standard hearing aid.
As the name suggests, this style is exactly like the BTE hearing aid but on a smaller scale. The piece that sits behind the user’s ear is smaller, making it more discrete.
This option could be a good choice for someone wanting a more basic, affordable hearing aid that still provides a lot of power. It might not be a good choice for someone with dexterity issues, as the design is very small.
Another style similar to the BTE hearing aid, this version uses a small wire receiver that extends into the user’s ear. The main body of this hearing aid is worn behind the ear.
RIC hearing aids can be worn by people of all degrees of hearing loss, but the smaller pieces require the user to have manual dexterity. Some users prefer the RIC design as it allows natural sounds and air to flow in and out of the ear, making it less likely to feel ‘plugged up.’
Otherwise known as full or half-shell, ITE hearing aids fill up either a portion of or the user’s entire ear. This type of hearing aid is an option for patients with any degree of loss, but is often recommended for moderate to severe hearing loss.
It can be a great choice for older patients that may have trouble handling smaller devices since this type is larger and custom-fit to their ear.
ITCs are compact hearing aids that fit inside the user’s ear canal. They are very small and can be hard to handle, but they can block out background noise quite effectively.
Audiologists recommend people with mild to moderate levels of hearing loss as candidates for this style. ITC options might not work for people with a lot of wax build-up, as that can affect how the device fits and functions.
The most discrete option, CICs fit entirely inside the user’s ear canal. This makes them an ideal pick for someone leading an active lifestyle. However, because CICs are smaller than some other options, they are often not as powerful and may have fewer features.
Since these devices are so small, they also have much shorter battery life than those that use larger or rechargeable batteries. These hearing aids are not recommended for children or people with severe hearing loss.
What kind of features should I look for in a hearing aid?
Hearing aids can be as unique as the people who wear them, each with different styles, preferences, and needs. Below are just a few of the advanced features you can shop around for when comparing devices on the market.
Avid smartphone users will likely want a hearing aid with Bluetooth capabilities. This allows your hearing aid to sync with your device to stream music, answer phone calls, and hook up to smartphone apps for easy adjustment.
Some hearing aids allow users to switch quickly to preset programs based on changes in their listening environment.
This gives the user more control and the ability to adapt quickly to environmental sounds like wind, traffic, and music. It’s best to have these custom programs set up by your audiologist, who can adjust the settings to fit your unique needs.
This feature is important for people who enjoy high-noise environments, like concerts or large gatherings.
Rather than boosting all the sounds in an environment, directionality allows the hearing aid to tune into one primary sound. This feature helps cut background noise so that the user can be focused on the sounds they want to hear.
Hearing aids are an investment in your health and finding the best option for you is critical to their effectiveness.
Be sure to take any questions you may have regarding hearing aid options to your doctor or audiologist.