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The Pros and Cons of Invisible Hearing Aids
One of the biggest concerns from first-time hearing aid wearers is whether their hearing aids will be visible to others. In fact, a recent study found that making a hearing aid virtually invisible would increase the likelihood of someone purchasing a hearing aid 30-40%. Additionally, 48% of people with hearing loss who don’t have hearing aids say that the stigma of hearing aids is a factor in putting off treating their hearing loss.
Certainly, cosmetics play an important role in choosing which hearing aids to buy for almost every user. Ensuring you’re comfortable with how your hearing aids look and feel has a positive effect on your overall satisfaction and daily use of your hearing aids. So it is not surprising that many first-time hearing aid wearers want to weigh the pros and cons of invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) hearing aids. Let’s look at the benefits and disadvantages, so you can make an informed choice that it right for you.
The Benefits of Invisible Hearing Aids
IICs are popular because they are practically invisible to everyone around you. Although there are a variety of in-the-ear hearing aids, IICs are the smallest and fit the furthest down in the ear canal. Because they sit do far down in the ear, they are well hidden and virtually undetectable by others. If you are concerned with the appearance of behind-the-ear hearing aids, IICs might be a good option that can give you the benefit of hearing aids without advertising to the whole world that you’re wearing them.
They have natural sound quality
Because IICs are placed deep into the ear canal, the natural cues from the sound interacting with the shape of your ear are preserved. There are no wires or tubes to get in the way, and it doesn’t “plug up” your ear to impede sound entering your ear naturally. The placement of IICs may increase your ability to localize or determine where sounds are coming from. For many users IICs provide a more natural sound quality, which makes it easier to adjust to using hearing aids.
They feel more natural
IICs can also improve how you hear your own voice while wearing them. Often, when people wear hearing aids that fill a significant portion of their ear canal, they report that their own voice is too loud or that sounds have a hollow quality to them. This is called the occlusion effect and happens when low pitch sounds (like your voice coming from inside your head) get “trapped” in the ear canal between the eardrum and the hearing aid, which can create discomfort and distorted sounds.
IICs help to reduce the occlusion effect in two ways. First, they sit much deeper than other aids, placing less of the ear canal behind the aids, so a smaller portion of your ear is covered up by the hearing aids, creating less internal vibration and less unnatural sound distortion. Second, IICs are typically much shorter than other ITE devices, making it easier to release or vent the low pitch sound waves to the outer ear, causing less occlusion discomfort.
IICs are placed much closer to the eardrum than other hearing aids. As a result, they do not require as much power or sound output in order to reach the same loudness for the listener. The low power also results in less residual sound energy in the ear, which is important because less residual sound energy in the ear reduces the likelihood of experiencing feedback, particularly while on the phoneâ€”an issue for many hearing aid users.
The Disadvantages of Invisible Hearing Aids
They lack advanced directionality
One of the major disadvantages of IICs is they are too small to fit more than one microphone on the device, thus they cannot support directional features. Many larger hearing aids have multiple microphones, programmed in such a way that the user or audiologist can direct the focus of the microphones to specific areas around the hearing aid wearer. Most often, directionality is used to detect and hear a speaker in front of you while reducing background noises from the sides and back.
For example, if you go out to dinner, automatic directionally will focus the aids in front of you so you can hear the person sitting in front of you more clearly instead of the people behind you. IICs use the natural sound cues from your ear, but their microphone picks up sound from all directions equally, which can sometimes make it more difficult to follow conversations in a noisy environment.
They’re not strong enough for severe hearing loss
IICs are most beneficial for individuals with mild or moderate hearing loss. Because they’re so small, there simply isn’t enough room on the aid for more advanced technology like powerful speakers and stronger processing power. So IICs are not recommended for people with severe or profound hearing loss.
They have a short battery life
Another direct result of the small size of IICs is their short battery life. Because IICs are so small, they use the smallest size hearing aid battery and need to be changed more often than those in larger hearing aids. The small battery size can result in paying more for batteries that need to be replaced more often.
They don’t fit everyone’s ears
Everyone’s ears are different, and some people’s ears are shorter or much more narrow than others. If your ear canal is too small or shaped in such a way that the IIC device cannot be placed in the right area, an invisible hearing aid may not be an option. Additionally, if you have vision or dexterity problems and can’t reliably place the hearing aid in the right place in your canal, you’ll receive less benefit from the aids.
Are Invisible Hearing Aids Right for You?
IIC devices are an excellent choice for many individuals, particularly those who are concerned with cosmetics and want a discreet device. However, they may not be appropriate for all users or lifestyles. If you have questions about IICs for yourself or for a loved one, talk to an audiologist about your hearing loss. They can guide you to a hearing aid that will give you the most benefit for your lifestyle and needs.