Above are my current hearing aids, Oticon Alta CICs
Hearing aids come in many different sizes and styles. The largest and most visible are called behind-the-ear hearing aids (BTEs). These can come in the so-called “traditional” form, where a plastic tube carries sound from the hearing aid to a mold that sits in the ear canal, or more modern receiver-in-the-ear styles (RITEs), where a thin wire carries a signal from the body of the hearing aid to a tiny speaker that sits right in the ear canal. RITEs are generally smaller than traditional BTEs, but traditional BTEs are favoured in cases where the hearing impairment is more severe and more amplification is required. As well, traditional BTEs are favoured for children due to their robustness in face of occasional mistreatment. Together, these different types of BTE hearing aids make up about 65% of all hearing aids distributed.
The remaining styles of hearing aids are collectively called “custom” hearing aids. Unlike BTEs, these custom hearing aids are uniquely constructed to fit a person’s specific ear shape based on an impression created by a hearing professional and sent to the manufacturer. The largest are called in-the-ear hearing aids (ITEs) and the smallest are called completely-in-the-canal hearing aids (CICs.) (Boy is this industry creative with their naming schemes!).
When I was younger, I wore traditional BTEs as all children did, and largely still do. However, when I required a new pair 2 years ago at the age of 20, I made the choice to switch to CICs. I like to think that I am not ashamed or embarrassed of my use of hearing aids, and I can honestly say that that wasn’t the main reason for my switch. So what were my reasons for this switch?
- The biggest reason was sweat. With BTEs, sweat would run down the side of my head and cover the bodies of my hearing aids. The microphones would get wet, things would sound distorted, and often the hearing aids would shut down completely and require hours of drying before returning to normal functioning. I’ve found that my CICs sit far enough in my ear canal that they avoid most of this moisture. When I told my audiologists that I was considering switching to CICs, I was warned that they wouldn’t be as resistant to everyday use and would likely require more frequent repairs. So far though, I’ve found the complete opposite (though I do clean them and replace waxguards religiously).
- My second reason for switching to CICs was to make speaking on the phone easier. With BTEs, it takes a lot of work to hold the phone at just the right angle to hear. Oftentimes I would actually have to move the phone from my ear to my mouth, just like a walkie-talkie, to both listen and be heard. With custom hearing aids, you can just hold up the phone to your head as anyone else would. (Admittedly, the accessories to link hearing aids to phones are better than they’ve ever been, largely relieving this issue. I still do enjoy not relying on these intermediary devices though.)
- My final reason for switching away from BTEs was the ability to not worry about ear molds anymore. When you get a brand new pair of earmolds, they can be nearly invisible or as brightly coloured as you want them to be. However, they always fade, turn yellow, and change shape over time. They’re not terribly expensive to replace, but making multiple appointments to do so is rather inconvenient. With custom hearing aids, this problem is removed.
In the past, the number of people that could use custom hearing aids were very limited. If you had a more severe hearing loss or enjoyed the accessories that could be used by BTEs, they weren’t really a feasible option. However, thanks to advances in technology more people than ever can use custom hearing aids.
Overall, I’m very happy with this switch. Sometimes though, I actually feel really guilty. I try be an advocate for those who wear hearing aids and speak openly about my experiences, but often it feels like I’m hiding my hearing impairment by wearing CICs. I remember one experience speaking to a mom and young boy who was just fitted with hearing aids. I showed them what I wore and she said to her son, “Look at how small they are, one day you’ll be able to wear hearing aids that small.” That incident left me feeling really conflicted. That child shouldn’t be made to feel like smaller, less visible hearing aids are better.
Though I enjoy my CICs a lot for the reasons discussed, I would really like to one day get a second pair of BTE hearing aids specifically to wear while working as a hearing professional. I remember being a kid and feeling alone because I almost never saw anyone else under 70 wearing hearing aids. I would hope that if I publicly wore bigger, brigher hearing aids, it might help others feel more comfortable with their own hearing aids.