Hearing loss reduces your ability to engage in social activities, enjoy music, and even have a simple conversation with a loved one. Despite these very real problems, the Center for Hearing and Communication estimates 15 million Americans avoid seeking help for hearing loss, and those who do eventually see a doctor wait an average of 7 years before seeking help.
The question then is why are people so reluctant to get help for hearing loss? When you think about hearing aids, you may tend to think of the larger, behind-the-ear models that are highly visible. While this style of hearing aid provides a great number of benefits to the wearer, it’s common for some people to desire something that’s a little more discreet.
In recent years, hearing aid manufacturers have realized that the cosmetic aspect of hearing aids are becoming more and more important to people seeking help with their hearing loss. If you’re looking for the most discreet, hardly noticeable hearing devices, consider completely-in-the-canal hearing aids, or as they’re more popularly known, invisible hearing aids.
First off, it’s important to note that no hearing aids are truly “invisible” in the classic sense of the word. The ones referenced here are nearly invisible to the eyes of the closest observers, but they can still be seen to some degree. Invisible hearing aids are custom-fitted hearing devices that sit in the ear canal. In most cases, even the faceplate of the hearing aid is invisible to all but the closest observers. No one you’re having a conversation with will notice the hearing aid unless their eyes are uncomfortably close to your ear, and even then, they might have a hard time spotting it.
The outer casing of an invisible hearing aid is a customized earmold designed specifically for you by your hearing care professional. The hearing aid is worn completely in the ear and can be removed simply by pulling on a small string attached to it.
While the most obvious benefit of invisible hearing aids are the cosmetics of the device, the shape and positioning of invisible hearing aids also help to preserve natural sound. Many wearers prefer the sound quality of these tiny hearing aids to larger, bulkier models.
Since the shape of the outer ear plays a crucial role in hearing natural sounds, over-the-ear and some in-the-ear hearing aids can interfere with that natural interaction which alters the quality of sounds amplified by the hearing aid wearer. Invisible hearing aids have no wires or external parts to impair natural sounds, which can improve your ability to detect where sounds come from. Because amplified sounds are more natural sounds, many wearers adapt to invisible hearing aids quickly.
If you've ever listened to a recording of your own voice, you may have been surprised at how different it sounds from what you hear when you’re speaking. The same thing can happen when hearing aids capture and amplify the sound of your voice. Hearing aids that fill larger portions of your ear canal can make your voice sound hollow or too loud. This occurs because of something called the occlusion effect: low pitch sound frequencies get trapped between the hearing aid and your eardrum, causing distortion and even discomfort.
Because invisible hearing aids sit deeper in the ear canal than other hearing devices, unpleasant occlusion is reduced. There’s less space between the eardrum and the hearing aid, which when combined with the small amount of ear space covered by the aid, results in less internal vibration. Invisible hearing aids are also shorter than other in-the-ear-canal styles of hearing aids, making it easier for low pitch sound to exit the inner ear.
Wind noise, feedback, and irritating whistling sounds can interfere with hearing aid efficiency. Using a phone, for instance, may produce distracting whistling background noises. The deep fit of invisible hearing aids greatly reduces the risk of annoying feedback.
While invisible hearing aids provide quality hearing amplification in a discreet manner, they aren’t without some drawbacks. Generally speaking, invisible completely-in-the-canal hearing aids are best suited for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. The size of invisible hearing aids makes them too small to incorporate the hardware needed to process and deliver sound to people with severe or profound hearing loss.
Children are generally not good candidates for invisible hearing aids, as their ear canals will change shape as they grow, resulting in the need to frequently refit in-the-canal hearing aids with new customized casings. Children may also find inserting and removing invisible-in-the-ear hearing aids difficult, and the small size of the hearing device makes it easy to lose.
Adults may also encounter physical obstacles to wearing completely-in-the-canal hearing devices. Invisible hearing aids may not fit adults with small ear canals, or ear canals shaped in ways that prevent hearing aids from being properly positioned.
If you’re concerned with the cosmetic effects of wearing hearing aids and have mild to moderate hearing loss, invisible hearing aids may be the right choice for you. Talk to a licensed hearing care professional about your hearing and ask about whether invisible hearing aids are a good fit for you.
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Size plays a role in other invisible hearing aid considerations. The batteries used to power completely-in-the-ear hearing aids are by necessity tiny. This means they produce less power and need to be changed more often. Removing and inserting tiny batteries into such small devices can be frustrating, especially if you have manual dexterity issues.
Due to their small size, invisible hearing aids lack volume wheels, program buttons, and other manual controls, which can make customizing settings challenging. Features such as Bluetooth and wireless connectivity, which are common among larger hearing aids, are often absent in invisible hearing aids because they’re so small.
Like all hearing aids, invisible hearing aids are vulnerable to earwax buildup. Accumulated wax can interfere with the hearing aid’s microphone and speaker, and in some cases infiltrate the casing, where wax causes further damage. Regular cleaning following the manufacturer’s instructions is important, especially after the hearing aid’s warranty expires. Many invisible hearing aids need to be dehumidified on a regular basis to remove moisture from inside the casing.