Ask the Audiologist: I Have Very Small Ear Canals. What Are My Hearing Aid Options?
Today’s hearing loss patients now have more hearing aid options and styles to choose from than ever. But personal preferences aside, there are some physical factors that may make one type of hearing aid less suitable for you than others. One of the most obvious factors is the degree of hearing loss. More severe hearing loss requires a more powerful hearing aid. This typically means larger batteries and receivers, both of which increase the size the of hearing aid. But another common factor that often plays a role in the selection of hearing aids is the size of your ears.
How ear size affects hearing aid use
For most patients, the size of the ear canal is the most relevant part of the ear. This is because the ear canal has to accommodate at least a part of the hearing aid, if not the entire device. As such, individuals with very small or narrow ear canals are more limited in the different styles of hearing aids that will fit them. Since women on average have smaller ear canals than men, they are often the ones affected. So, what are your hearing aid options if you have very narrow or small ear canals?
Hearing aids that sit inside the ear are probably not great options. These hearing aids are typically called In-the-Ear (ITE), In-the-Canal (ITC), Completely-in-Canal (CIC), or Invisible-in-Canal (IIC) styles. As the names imply, the entire hearing device is worn inside the ear. If the ear canal doesn’t offer enough space to fit a hearing aid with all the necessary components, these styles are likely not going to be suitable, especially if the hearing loss is more significant or if you want more advanced features like wireless connectivity.
Different hearing aid options
Nevertheless, patients with smaller ear canals don’t have to despair. Thankfully, there are still discreet and comfortable alternatives available. Receiver-in-Canal (RIC) hearing aids are tiny, attractive hearing aids with a main housing that sits behind the ear. The reason they are very small is because the receiver, or speaker, actually sits inside the ear canal and is connected to the housing via a thin tube. RICs are a fantastic option for most people—not just those with small canals. Even though they are very discreet, they can offer all the most advanced hearing aid features available, such as direct wireless connectivity, rechargeability, and state-of-the-art sound processing.
As discussed, RIC styles feature receivers that have to fit inside the ear canal. Although hearing aid receivers are now smaller than ever, a more severe hearing loss still requires a slightly larger receiver to provide sufficient amplification. As such, for those whose canals cannot accommodate the necessary receiver size in a RIC, another option is a Behind-the-Ear (BTE) hearing aid. Although BTEs look similar to RICs, they are typically slightly larger since the receiver is also located inside the hearing aid, and they often take a larger battery. This larger size means BTEs are able to accommodate any degree of hearing loss and listening need. They sit behind the ear, and the sound is delivered into the ear canal via either a thin tube or an earmold, which can accommodate even the tiniest of ear canals.
Ear canal size is just one consideration in selecting the ideal hearing aid for you. To find the hearing aids that fit your listening needs, lifestyle, as well as your ears, speak with your hearing care professional.