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Pros and Cons of Invisible Hearing Aids

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

When a company talks about invisible hearing aids, they're normally trying to market to people who don't want hearing aids. Pretty much the only time you hear "invisible hearing aids" it's an advert, and usually for a not-particularly-great company, the sort who want your email address and phone number so they can contact you endlessly for a 'free hearing test' (wallet at the ready!).


What is meant by ‘invisible aid’ is what audiologists call an IIC, an 'invisible in the canal' style of custom made aid.

This is what they look like, and the idea is that only the clear removal cord can be seen from the outside. Sounds great, right? Maybe, but there are some pros and cons to these aids:


CONS

  1. The size of the aid depends completely on your ear canal size/volume/shape. We audiologists do the best we can to take an impression (mould of shape of your ear/ear canal) as far into your ear canal as possible. The manufacturer then does the best they can to fit the components into an aid that is shaped to your impression. If you have large ear canals with not too sharp a bend, you'll get an aid that sits deep down in there. If you have an ear canal that's pretty standard, you'll likely end up with a bigger CIC (completely in the canal) or ITC (in the canal) aid that's in the canal but is visible from the outside (see below). It's a bit of skill but mostly luck as to what effect you get. A lot of ' invisible aids' come out like this, or larger, causing disappointment. They are not invisible.

  2. IIC, CIC, ITC aids all tend to have one microphone per aid. Other styles of hearing aid have two per aid, creating an array of 4 mics. Advanced hearing aids use this array to create directionality. This is where the aids can 'point' the mics at the target sound (the person you're talking to, usually). Ultra advanced aids use directionality to track the speaker (say your shopping companion) and they form a beam that picks up the closest/loudest voice and ignores sound from other directions. Without these additional microphones, the invisible aid relies on your own ears to provide directional information. This is not good if you paid for high tech*, and it's not good if you particularly struggle hearing in background noise, as you would likely benefit from beam-forming microphones.

  3. Receiver size is limited in a tiny hearing aid. A receiver is the name for the speaker that produces the sound, and they come in different strengths. A more powerful receiver takes up more space, so you usually find that invisible IIC aids are only possible for mild-moderate hearing losses.

  4. Receiver size is fixed in an IIC hearing aid. So when your hearing gets worse, if it is no longer covered by the strength of receiver, the aid will no longer be loud enough to be useful. Essentially the aids might not last as long as other styles would before you need to replace them. Age related hearing loss worsens at a typical pace for most people, but there's no way of telling how fast an individual will change. The audiologist might need to compromise on sound quality and hearing ability when they reassess/retest you, in order to keep your aids going as long as possible. So although you will hear well at first, this might change over the years, and it might be as little as 2-3 years before you struggle to hear in noise again.

  5. Fun components are missing in IIC aids. Wireless components that allow you to connect to mobile phones and other devices. Rechargeable batteries are not possible. You can't access special programs or change volume because there's no room for a button on the aids. Etc...

  6. You might need a 're shell'. This is where the aids are sent back and rebuilt with a different vent size, and it will likely be chargeable outside of your service package. This happens if your hearing gets worse and the original build needs a smaller vent to accommodate your new hearing test. It takes approximately two weeks to have it done.

  7. They’re less comfortable, because they sit further down in the bony part of your ear canal.

PROS

  1. On the plus side, if you are lucky enough to get an aid that is genuinely not visible, you won't see them and they won't get caught on mask strings or glasses.

So, this is why I don’t generally recommend invisible aids! If the budget for replacement is no issue, or you have a mild, conductive loss that’s unlikely to change, you’ll likely be delighted with them. For everyone else it quite often ends in disappointment - at the start or a few years down the road.


I always give the pros and cons to my customers, as I think these points are very important in making an informed choice. I’d be wary of someone who just said “yes we can do that, no problem Mrs Jackson !”, and even more wary of a company that uses these devices as a way to hook you in. When you get to that appointment the audiologist (if they’re honest) will tell you why you’re not suited to them.


Invisible aid requests are also often a sign that your customer is not emotionally prepared for hearing aids, or they haven’t understood that - while today’s hearing aids are very discreet - no one is looking anyway. You may remember seeing someone with huge beige aids once, but there’s a dozen other people with hearing aids you’ll meet today wearing a RIC (receiver in canal) where you don’t notice at all.




And finally, as I say often,


Hearing aids don’t make you look old. Saying “what” and ignoring people because you didn’t hear them makes you look old!

I promise you, once you’re hearing everything again, and you’re no longer having to sit out of conversations, you’ll be less concerned with the look. It’s only the imagining that is difficult. The reality is that private sector aids are discreet and comfy.



*this is not to say that all high tech functions are absent. Quality sound processing is still worth paying for.



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