The pros and cons of models and styles of hearing aids

This month I am writing about hearing aids that are behind the ear. These particular products are called receivers in the canal (RIC) or receivers in the ear (RITE). Next month I will cover custom-made hearing aids.

Behind-the-ear hearing aids in the past were connected to a tube leading down into an ear mold. Motivated to make ever smaller hearing aids, the research and development scientists at hearing aid manufacturers moved the speaker (called a receiver) out of the body of the behind-the-ear hearing aids and put it on the end of a wire that goes over the ear and down into the ear canal.

This style has begun to take over a significant part of the market place because these aids are so flexible related to meeting a patient’s hearing loss and because they are so discreet. I wear a pair of this style, and many times it is very late in an appointment with someone before they even notice I am wearing hearing aids. I think they are a great style, but I am also honest enough to share the pros and cons with a patient who is considering an investment in hearing better.

Beyond just being discreet, let’s consider a major advantage of RIC devices. Because the receiver is interchangeable, it covers a wide variety of hearing losses. Typically there are three power level speakers on wires available. To change the receiver wire there is usually a tiny clip in the body of the hearing aid. This clip, like a miniature, old telephone handset, can be pressed with a pin to release the old wire. A new wire with a speaker/receiver can then be clipped back into the hole the other wire just vacated.

The multiple power options are also a great selling point. If a patient’s loss ever drops below the ability of the first wire, many dispensers will upgrade the next wire at little or no charge, instead of the patient buying a new hearing aid. These wire changes to upgrade — and even if there is a defect needing to be replaced — can happen instantly and in the dispenser’s office instead of the aid being sent back for factory service and repair.

The disadvantages of RIC devices make a short list and are really true of any style of hearing aid:

“The fact that the receiver is placed in the canal or the ear is both a blessing and curse. This placement exposes it to the hostile environment that the ear is for electronics. Your ear canal is wet, warm and oily, all of the things that electronics tend not to like. The manufacturers take great pains to protect the receivers with nano moisture resistant coating materials, enclosed casings and wax guard protectors. However, unless you take good care of the receivers, changing your wax guards when you should, inevitably wax gets into them. At best, this can just block the sound outlet; at worst, it can ingress into the receiver itself and destroy it.

“Wax and moisture are the kiss of death for receivers. Thankfully, the receivers are easily replaced by your hearing professional, however after the manufacturer’s warranty is up you may have to pay for them. While they vary in cost, they are not expensive, however if you are replacing them regularly, the cost adds up.” (Source: Audiologyonline.com)

There are some people who shouldn’t wear these types of devices. If you have permanent perforations in your ears or you have had a mastoid operation, these hearing devices aren’t really for you. As you will know if you have these problems, there is an increased risk of middle ear infections.

Your hearing professional will be able to determine if you are a candidate for a RIC. They are the least invasive hearing aid available.

If you have the symptoms of hearing loss, let a professional help you find out why. The hearing professional will help you sort out the technology level to meet your need, and your budget, and answer your hearing need questions.

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Jeffrey L. Bayliff, NBC-HIS is owner of Hear the Birds Hearing Aid Center, Lock Haven.

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