Most of us have learned that anything which sounds too good to be true usually is. Which would make it wise to apply a healthy dose of caution or a large pinch of salt when approaching the idea of invisible hearing aids. After all, anything marketed as ‘invisible’ couldn’t possibly have enough power to remedy a serious hearing impairment. Or could it?
The good, the bad and the invisible
I’m going to lay my cards on the table here. Seven out of ten new clients walk through our doors because they have heard about invisible hearing aids. They are the most news-worthy innovation the audiology industry has seen in living memory. More importantly, they deliver on their marketing promises – essentially invisible when viewed from the outside and capable of incredible performance for such a diminutive piece of kit.
But there’s more to this story than meets the eye (or doesn’t, in this case). The previous six clients I’ve treated were all convinced they wanted an invisible hearing aid yet none of them ultimately opted for this type of aid. Which begs the question: why?
Well, let’s take a close look at the arguments for and against.
Advantages of invisible hearing aids
- They are invisible. Invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) hearing aids, to use their fancy medical name, are the smallest devices on the market. This means they sit furthest down your ear canal where no casual observer will ever see them. There are also no wires or earpieces visible on the surface so to all intents and purposes they are truly invisible.
- They work well in most environments. IICs essentially plug the ear canal so are very good at eliminating background noise. This means that in situations like business meetings or meals in restaurants, an invisible hearing aid should be up to the job.
- They wirelessly connect to TVs, computers, phones and other devices. Modern hearing aids need to link effortlessly with the technology you use everyday and IICs won’t let you down in this regard – they offer excellent compatibility.
- They are good for active lifestyles. Each IIC is custom-moulded to the shape of your ear, so they fit securely and can be worn for sports and other physical activities. This is a huge benefit if you don’t want to remove or risk damaging your hearing aid every time you go for a run or play a team sport.
- Some clients find they provide a more ‘natural’ sound. This is slightly subjective issue, but because IICs don’t interfere with the sound-shaping contours of your outer ear, the quality of sound they produce is often described as ‘natural’ or ‘uncoloured’. For the same reason, they also allow your ear to continue identifying which direction sounds are coming from.
- They use less energy. Because IICs sit so far down your ear canal, they require less volume to produce the same perceived loudness as other aids. This also means there is less residual sound bouncing around your ear canal, which can cause feedback when using the phone.
Disadvantages of invisible hearing aids
- They aren’t great in very noisy environments. Because of their size, IICs only have one microphone which means they can’t support the directional features of their larger relatives. In environments such as busy restaurants and bars, aids with multiple microphones can help you focus on a speaker in front of you by reducing the volume of sounds emanating from the back and sides. By contrast, IICs amplify sounds coming from all directions equally.
- They aren’t powerful enough for severe hearing issues. The laws of physics mean that powerful speakers are inherently larger, so while IICs can provide an excellent solution for people with mild or moderate hearing loss, they aren’t suitable for people with profound hearing difficulties.
- They have a relatively short battery life. Another unavoidable limitation of such a small piece of kit is the size of battery the manufacturers are able to use. If you don’t like the idea of regularly recharging and replacing batteries then an IIC might not be the best choice for you.
- The occlusion effect. Most of the sounds you hear – people talking, music, birdsong and so on – enter your ears from the outside. However, the vibrations from your own voice also reach your ears directly through your body. Having taken this ‘short cut’, some soundwaves would naturally escape up your ear canal. However, when you’re wearing an IIC, this will prevent the soundwaves leaving your ear canal. As a result, some people find their own voice sounds different or louder when wearing a hearing aid. However, I should point out that this only affects a minority of people.
- Not everyone can wear an IIC. Like every part of the human body, ears come in all shapes and sizes. In a few instances, we find that an individual’s ear canals are too short, narrow or shaped in such a way that it is not possible to successfully fit an IIC. Depending on the shape of your ear canal, there is also a risk that they might work themselves loose while chewing or talking. Similarly, if you have a problem with your eyesight or movement that prevents you from successfully placing the device in your ear, you might be better suited to a slightly larger hearing aid which is easier to position.
- They require more maintenance. Because IICs sit further down your ear canal, they are more likely to suffer from problems related to ear wax building up around the microphone part.
Is an invisible hearing aid right for you?
Returning to the question I asked in the headline: are invisible hearing aids life-changing technology or a clever marketing ploy? The answer is that they’re both.
A hearing aid should give you the freedom to live the life you want. For some people, having a device that nobody else can see makes IICs the only type of hearing aid worth considering. However, many of our clients decide that, on reflection, they would rather forego invisibility for a device which gives them more functionality and convenience.
As an independent clinic, we’re here to help you choose the correct hearing aid for your lifestyle. We don’t have any brand affiliations, which means we can provide a truly unbiased consultation and make a personal recommendation based on your individual needs.
If you’re currently researching different types of hearing aid, you might find it helpful to see your options mapped out on the sliding scale below. As you move from left to right, the devices become larger. But, as a payoff, also offer more power and features.
About Sevenoaks Hearing
At Sevenoaks Hearing, we provide a bespoke hearing service, using state-of-the-art technology to provide an accurate diagnosis and an effective solution. As we are independent of any manufacturer, we can also provide the best solution for your lifestyle. Find out about our hearing assessments and other treatment services.
Written by Matt Canon, Lead Audiologist at Sevenoaks Hearing. Visit our independent hearing centres in Sevenoaks, Banstead and East Grinstead or book an appointment now.