You may be asking “Are there invisible hearing aids?” Right now, the answer would be not yet, but we’re getting closer!
In-Ear Versus Behind-The-Ear: Discreet Hearing Aids
The two main styles of hearing aids are worn either in the ear (ITE) or behind/on top of the ear (BTE). ITE hearing aids fit directly inside the ear and are made based off of an impression of your ear, so they fit perfectly inside. From appearances alone, they seem to block the entirety of the ear hole with a flesh-colored device.
While they are quite discreet, ITE hearing aids can be seen when looking at a profile view of the ear. Additionally, most ITE aids lack directional microphones, so they have trouble adapting to varied settings. Since they are so small, you also cannot manually adjust settings; there is not enough surface area for any buttons or controls.
BTE hearing aids are slightly larger and can often be seen with a wire running along the back of the ear, making them slightly less cosmetically appealing. BTE hearing aids can either come with an earmold or a receiver (RIC), but both styles maintain the electrical components outside the ear. According to Healthy Hearing, this allows for simpler fixes and less frequent repairs. They are also easier to use if you have issues with dexterity.
How a RIC works: Small Hearing Aids and Sound Quality
If you are looking for a small, in-ear device that maintains excellent sound quality, your best bet is receiver-in-canal, or RIC, hearing aids. Many first-time hearing aid wearers enjoy the RIC because they have buttons on the side that are simple to use and can be easily programmed to ensure the best possible hearing. Multiple microphones help to pick up the correct sounds and filter out background noises, and the receiver in the ear canal ensures speech isn’t distorted or fuzzy. Some RIC devices are even Bluetooth capable or connect to a phone app to make them even easier to control.
Invisible hearing aids: Goodbye, stigma
Hearing aids used to be bulky and easily seen, but things have certainly changed. Not only are hearing aids smaller and more hidden, but also the stigma surrounding their use has significantly decreased. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports there are 28.8 million Americans suffering from hearing loss. Therefore it is common to know someone (or many someones!) who wears hearing aids. Additionally, as Bluetooth and wireless headphones like AirPods, Beats, Bose, and Skullcandy become more popular, hearing aids become just another version of wearable ear technology.
Certain celebrities have also become more vocal about wearing hearing aids and preventing hearing loss. President Bill Clinton has worn hearing aids since he was in office, and Whoopi Goldberg, too, is very open about wearing a pair. Musicians like Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, and Phil Collins have all suffered from hearing loss and hope to educate and prevent others from experiencing the same issues. As we say goodbye to the stigma of hearing aids, we say hello to powerful hearing support in a smaller design.
By: Diana Michel, Updated in 2021
Sources: NIDCD, Healthy Hearing