Hearing Aid Types and Styles

by Laine Waggoner, MA, MS 



You must work with your dispenser to choose the best type of hearing aid for your unique:

  • Lifestyle and level of activity

  • Physical needs, limitations and dexterity

  • Medical conditions

  • Cosmetic and style preferences

  • Budget

WHY ARE TWO (binaural) AIDS BEST (for most people)?:

  • Better sound balance and location of the source of sound.

  • Greater ability to understand speech against background noise.


A powerful T-coil  or induction coil detects only an electromagnetic field and prevents feedback when using a telephone. It is available on most Behind-The-Ear (BTE) and In-The-Ear (ITE) models. It also gives you access to a wide variety of personal assistive listening devices or large-area listening systems, installed in theaters, auditoriums, etc.. You may need to specifically request a T-coil in your new aid, or you can usually add one to your current aid. Be sure to get a demonstration of how the T-switch on your T-coil works.


CONVENTIONAL ANALOG-Basic Technology = Lowest Price:

  • Analog signal processing and amplification.

  • Good listening comfort and speech understanding in one-to-one and quiet situations.

  • Limited fitting adjustments and fine tuning flexibility.

PROGRAMMABLE (Analog) = Moderate Price Range:

  • Provides good sound quality, greater flexibility and listening comfort in more varied environments.

  • They have Analog signal processing and greater fitting flexibility.

  • A computer is used to program it for certain sound adjustments.

  • For improved speech clarity in small groups and moderate communication needs. 

  • Provides more comfort in loud environments.

NOTE:  An “Analog Programmable” Aid is NOT a Digital Aid.

 FULLY DIGITAL = Most Advanced Level  = Highest Price:

  • Sometimes called “Digital Programmable”

  • Processes speech and noise differently by converting sound waves into digital signals.

  • Provides superior sound quality and speech understanding.

  • Fully automatic, although some also have a volume control.

  • Digital processing between microphone and receiver.

  • May help you hear better in noise.

  • Minimizes feedback and cellular phone interference.

  • Maximum flexibility for individual hearing losses, multiple listening situations, diverse lifestyle needs or future changes in hearing.

  • They vary in the types of speech processing strategies used.

If you are new to hearing aid use, you might want to try a less expensive aid first.  Added features may include: directional microphones, speech enhancers, multiple programs (bands or channels).  Other Optional Features (will most likely increase cost):

  • Remote control for programmable aids can select from several preset channels for different sound qualities.
  • Pot/Trimmer allows your dispenser to make adjustments in the office.
  • K-Amp amplifies only soft, quiet sounds, not loud sounds like horns blowing, dishes clattering or people shouting.


Behind-The-Ear (BTE):

  • Good for mild to profound hearing losses.

  • Sound is conducted to a custom earmold through a plastic tube.

  • Larger controls, make them easier to handle. 

  • Powerful, durable and reliable.

  • Can hold more “hardware”, such as good Tele-coils.

In-The-Ear (ITE):

  • For mild to severe loss.

  • Custom housing fits in the outer ear and extends into the ear canal.

  • Receiver in the canal conducts sound into the ear.

  • Adjustable volume control (usually).

  • Requires greater manual dexterity than BTE aids.

In-The-Canal (ITC):

  • Less visible than ITE style.

  • For mild to moderately severe loss.

  • Custom mold houses components to fit in the ear opening and canal.

  • Receiver in the canal conducts sound into the ear.

  • Adjustable volume with smaller controls.

  • Requires much greater manual dexterity than BTE aids.

  • Uses really small batteries.

Completely-In-The-Canal (CIC):

  • For mild to moderately severe losses.

  • All components fit in the ear canal. Removed with a nylon cord or other tool.

  • Receiver is in the canal.

  • No user adjustable controls (usually).

  • Almost invisible in the ear.

  • Requires much greater manual dexterity than BTE aids.

  • Uses really small batteries.

NOTE: Needs a fairly straight ear canal for comfortable use.

 Body Aid for the most severe hearing loss:

  • A powerful aid is housed in a portable case carried in your pocket.

  • A cord connects the aid to a receiver in the ear.

NOTE regarding TRIAL PERIOD:  

California law requires a minimum 30-day trial of each new hearing aid. Try to negotiate a 45-60 day trial period before concluding the sale.


  • Very sophisticated and complicated electronic technology tailored to your unique hearing loss needs.
  • A custom-selected package that fits into a specific shell selected or built for you.
  • The value of the quality, education, dedication, skill, service and availability of your hearing care professional.
  • Follow-up over time ensures you are receiving maximum benefit from your aids.


  • Free hearing tests: If you take advantage of such offers, make sure they are without obligation and there are no strings attached. Check if you will still be able to get a copy of your audiogram and that you will not be charged for the exam if you do not buy an aid. Also check that the cost of the exam will not be included in the price of your aid.

  • When comparing hearing aid prices make sure you are comparing aids with exactly the same features and services. Find out what is included in the quoted price. Instead of one price for the whole package of services, you may want to request a breakdown of the separate chares for testing and evaluation, the aid, fitting and follow-up care.

  • See if you can negotiate at least 10% to 15% lower than MSRP=Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price.

  • Finally, you will have to evaluate whether the technological advantages of a higher priced hearing aid are worth the added cost.



AARP’s 2000 “Consumer’s Guide to Hearing Aids”,

Document # D17177 (600), American Association of Retired Persons, (www.aarp.org)

Academy of Dispensing Audiologists

Donna Eskwitt, Ph.D., Audiologist, UCLA Medical Center

Hearing Industries Association

Krames Communications

League for the Hard of Hearing 

Laine Waggoner is the Director of HEAR (Hearing-loss Education And Reelationships), which conducts support groups, facilitates seminars, and provides private coaching for individuals who are experiencing hearing loss.  Email: LaineWaggoner@dc.rr.com

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