There are two primary reasons people with hearing issues shy away from purchasing hearing aids. One reason is the cost. The other is the fear that wearing a detectable hearing aid will be interpreted as a sign of advancing age and vulnerability.
Enter the invisible hearing aid, also termed an invisible-in-canal (IIC), completely-in-canal (CIC), or hidden hearing aid. Unlike the more familiar behind-the-ear (BTE) or receiver-in-the-ear (RIC) models, invisible hearing aids are small enough to fit so deep within the ear canal they cannot be seen. There is no behind-the-ear piece or tubing to give their presence away.
Originally this type of hearing aid was good only for mild to moderate hearing loss, there are now models suitable for severe hearing loss as well. It really all comes down to whether the customer can accommodate this type of hearing aid.
Is There Such A Thing As An Invisible Hearing Aid?
Absolutely. The Phonak Lyric series is generally considered the groundbreaker in this arena. More recently, Phonak launched two more hidden hearing aid series, the Titanium and the Nano.
The label “invisible” is a bit tricky. For instance, the Signia Silk is listed as invisible, yet is also described as being “only invisible for some people.” Even if it isn’t truly invisible, there are hearing aids that are so small and discreetly colored they are practically invisible.
Among the invisible aids available in late 2019 is the Widex Menu IIC, suited for mild to moderately severe hearing loss. Oticon OPN IIC claims to be “perfect for those with moderate to severe hearing loss.”
What Makes An Invisible Hearing Aid Different?
There are several features that make invisible hearing aids unique when compared to their larger cousins. Among the positive is, of course, the size: the tiniest of hidden hearing aids is about as big as an average woman’s fingertip. Customer reviews indicate that when the right candidate has them properly fitted, it can be possible to forget you have them in.
In addition, invisible hearing aids sits so far into the ear canal and so close to the eardrum that they positively impact sound quality. These hearing aids cannot be affected by wind, like a hearing device that sits closer to the ear canal opening or a behind-the-ear model, so there is considerably less feedback. Not only is the resulting sound quality purer and more complete, but even the wearer can hear their own voice without the over-loud quality common to other hearing aids.
On the other hand, being so small, and placed deep within the ear canal, these instruments require special maintenance to remove ear wax and other debris. Also, none of these tiny aids are rechargeable and they run on very small hearing aid batteries that must be replaced every few days. The replacement procedure can be difficult to deal with and relatively costly.
One consideration is that not all those who need hearing aids could accommodate the smallest of hearing aids. Again, the length and width of the ear canal may make a larger hearing aid necessary. Another factor your audiologist will consider is – if an invisible hearing aid is a practical choice – which one(s) would meet your needs; some hearing aids in this category only accommodate mild to moderate hearing loss, while others claim to deal with severe hearing issues.
Pros And Cons Of Invisible Hearing Aids
Pros of invisible hearing aids:
- Though not less expensive, invisible hearing aids are not more expensive than larger hearing instruments, ranging from about $1,000 to $3,000 each.
- Cosmetically, invisible hearing aids can be truly undetectable.
- Better noise quality – Less likely to be affected by wind.
- Sitting so close to the eardrum, they are less subject to internal vibration which could cause sound distortion. The result: a more natural sound quality overall. Nice for any wearer but especially for those who do a lot of phone work.
- One’s own voice will sound more natural, not overly loud, as is common with larger types of hearing aids. (The over-loud issue is known, in the industry, as the “occlusion effect.”)
- Though most invisible hearing aids are presently not wireless-enabled, this capability is becoming more common. However, where available, it is limited to working with the manufacturer’s audio streaming devices.
- Although the current crop of invisible hearing aids lacks the array of features of larger hearing aids, even now there are a few models that do support Bluetooth and other options. This trend will grow as manufacturers strive to meet customer demands.
- Unique among invisible hearing aids is the Phonak Lyric 3. This is known as an “extended wear” hearing aid, meant to be worn 24/7 for several months and its batteries are expected to last the whole time. (It is recommended you put these hearing aids into sleep mode at night to slow battery drain.)
Cons of invisible hearing aids:
- Particularly small ears or narrow or relatively short ear canals may make it physically impossible for these types of hearing aids to work.
- Some customers have complained that, despite repeated fittings, the aids are not comfortable, and the sound quality is poor.
- Invisible hearing aids (other than extended wear) must be reinserted each day. Some clients find the small size makes them difficult to insert correctly.
- Easily plugged with ear wax and other debris (sweat, dirt, dust), these tiny hearing aids are prone to breakdowns and repairs.
- The hearing aids need dehumidifying on a regular basis to lessen the need for repairs.
- Some models are not yet able to handle additional technology like Bluetooth.
- Short battery life, expect batteries to last only 2 – 5 days.
Anyone, theoretically, can replace the size 10 batteries, but they’re so small that it can be difficult for anyone, but especially for those with dexterity or vision problems.
Being so small, invisible hearing aids lack the number of microphones of larger hearing aids. Those extra “directional” mics help sort out the sounds in, say, a restaurant, so the wearer can subdue background noise while focusing on the person they’re speaking with and listening to. The one, or perhaps two, mics in an invisible hearing aid picks up all the sounds around the wearer.
If your audiologist considers you a candidate for an invisible hearing aid, follow their advice carefully. Not all hidden hearing aids are alike, after all. Research the hearing devices your doctor recommends and be sure you understand what to expect in the way of maintenance and possible problems. You can always go with a somewhat less discreet model if it seems like a smarter move and be happier for it in the long run.
Lastly, though invisible hearing aids may not cost more than the larger versions, they are more prone to repairs. Be prepared for the expenses involved with fittings, hearing aid repairs, and replacements.