Posted on: 14 June 2016
Having a hearing aid fitted can be a tremendous help for anybody who suffers from hearing loss, improving your hearing while reducing the effects of tinnitus and other disorders. However, hearing aids come with drawbacks just like any medical treatment, and one of the most common complaints about hearing aids is the uncomfortable way they feel when fitted. Open fit hearing aids may be a way to avoid this discomfort.
What are open fit hearing aids?
Conventional hearing aids rely on ear moulds, shaped devices containing the microphones which amplify sounds. These devices are solid, and are inserted directly into the ear canal. While this arrangement minimises the obtrusiveness and visibility of the hearing aid, it can also be uncomfortable to live with. Many new hearing aid users complain of having ears that feel constantly blocked or plugged, and may experience problems with ear hygiene if they use their aids frequently. Solid ear moulds can also cause a disorienting problem known as 'occlusion effect'—this is caused by the ear mould preventing sounds from exiting the ear canal, and can cause speech and other noises your mouth makes to echo within your aid-wearing ear(s).
Open fit hearing aids replace these moulds with hollow, vented domes which contain small microphones, and are inserted into your ear in a similar fashion to conventional ear moulds. The minimally-invasive dome holds the microphone in place while allowing sounds to enter and exit the ear canal naturally. This dome is then connected with a narrow tube to the main body of the aid, which is concealed behind the ear.
What are the advantages of using open fit hearing aids?
These specialised hearing aids hold a number of advantages over their conventional cousins, including:
- Natural sound: The occlusion effect common to solid ear moulds is reduced or eliminated when using open fit hearing aids, preventing problems with speech perception. Open fit aids also allow ambient sounds into the ear canal, preventing jarring transmission cutoffs in quiet areas.
- Comfort: The ventilated ear domes used with open fit aids prevent stuffy feelings in the ear(s) during long periods of use, and help to prevent sweat and moisture accumulating inside the ear canal.
- No moulding required: The flexible domes of open fit hearing aids are designed to fit into a verity of ear canal shapes, and do not need to be specially crafted to fit your ears like conventional ear moulds. As such, you can generally start using open fit hearing aids directly after buying them, with some basic instructions on how to use them.
What about the disadvantages?
Unfortunately, there are also a few key drawbacks associated with open fit hearing aid use:
- Limited effectiveness: Open fit hearing aids are somewhat limited in power, and can only effectively be used to treat mild-to-moderate hearing loss. They are also less effective at compensating for low-frequency hearing loss than high-frequency, making them generally more useful for older patients.
- Visible earpieces: Open fit hearing aids are not currently available as self-contained in-the-ear (ITE) models, and have a main body that fits behind the ear like conventional behind-the-ear (BTE) aids. This makes them more visible than many ITE ear moulds.
- Fragility: Open fit models tend to be less robust than conventional moulds, and can be easily damaged if used improperly.