A hearing aid is an electroacoustic body worn apparatus which typically fits in or behind the wearer's ear, and is designed to amplify and modulate sounds for the wearer. Similar devices include the bone anchored hearing aid, and cochlear implant.
There are many types of hearing aids, which vary in size, power and circuitry. Among the different sizes and models are:
BEHIND THE EAR AIDS (BTE)
BTE aids have a small plastic case that fits behind the pinna (ear) and provides sound to the ear via air conduction of sound through a small length of tubing, or electrically with a wire and miniature speaker placed in the ear canal. The delivery of sound to the ear is usually through an earmold that is custom made, or other pliable fixture that contours to the individuals ear. BTEs can be used for mild to profound hearing losses and are especially useful for children because of their durability and ability to connect to assistive listening devices such as classroom FM systems. Another benefit when used with children is cost, when the child is growing quickly a new mold can be made for a fraction of the price of a new ITE. Their colors range from very inconspicuous skin tones to bright colors and optional decorations. Recent innovations in BTEs include miniature "invisible" BTEs with thin hair-like sound tubes (see open-fit devices below). These are often less visible than In-The-Ear aids (ITEs) and some keep the ear canal more open so listeners may still utilise their residual natural hearing (most helpful for those with normal hearing in the lower frequencies). Ideal for high frequency losses, these miniature versions are generally used for mild to moderate hearing loss.
IN THE EAR AIDS (ITE)
These devices fit in the outer ear bowl (called the concha); they are sometimes visible when standing face to face with someone. ITE hearing aids are custom made to fit each individual's ear. They can be used in mild to some severe hearing losses. Feedback, a squealing/whistling caused by sound (particularly high frequency sound) leaking and being amplified again, may be a problem for severe hearing losses. Some modern circuits are able to provide feedback regulation or cancellation to assist with this. Traditionally, ITEs have not been recommended for young children because their fit could not be as easily modified as the earmold for a BTE, and thus the aid had to be replaced frequently as the child grew. However, there are new ITEs made from a silicone type material that mitigates the need for costly replacements.
RECEIVER IN THE CANAL/EAR (RIC/RITE)
At a first glance, these devices are similar to the BTE aid. There is however one crucial difference: The speaker ('receiver') of the hearing aid is placed inside the ear canal of the user and thin electrical wires replace the acoustic tube of the BTE aid. There are some advantages with this approach: Firstly, the sound of the hearing aid is arguably smoother than that of a traditional BTE hearing aid. With a traditional BTE hearing aid, the amplified signal is emitted by the speaker (receiver) which is located within the body of the hearing aid (behind the ear). The amplified signal is then directed to the ear canal through an acoustic tube, which creates a peaky frequency response. With a RITE hearing aid, the speaker (receiver) is right in the ear canal and the amplified output of the hearing aid does not need to be pushed through an acoustic tube to get there, and is therefore free of this distortion. Secondly, RITE hearing aids can typically be made with a very small part behind-the-ear and the wire connecting the hearing aid and the speaker (receiver) is extremely inconspicuous. For the majority of people this is one of the most cosmetically acceptable hearing device types. Thirdly, RITE devices are suited to "open fit" technology (see below) so they can be fitted without plugging up the ear, offering relief from occlusion.
BONE ANCHORED HEARING AIDS (BAHA)
The BAHA is a auditory prosthetic which can be surgically implanted. The BAHA uses the skull as a pathway for sound to travel to the inner ear. For people with conductive hearing loss, the BAHA bypasses the external auditory canal and middle ear, stimulating the functioning cochlea. For people with unilateral hearing loss, the BAHA uses the skull to conduct the sound from the deaf side to the side with the functioning cochlea.