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According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, about 48 million people in the U.S. experience hearing loss. Yet, only one in five people with hearing loss who would benefit from hearing aids use oneHearing Loss Facts and Statistics. Hearing Loss Association of America. Accessed 11/11/2022. .
Studies suggest hearing loss is tied to social isolation, problems with interpersonal relationships, loneliness, depression and poor quality of life. Hearing loss can also make a person more prone to cognitive decline.
Hearing aids amplify certain sounds and minimize others to help improve hearing in people with hearing loss. They’re available in several forms, one of which is called a behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid. Read on to learn more about BTE hearing aids and determine whether they might be the right option for you.
Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids are non-invasive hearing aids that fit behind the ear. A small case holding the electronic components of the hearing aid sits behind the ear while a small plastic earmold fits inside the ear and is connected to the case via a thin tube. In some cases, thin tubes are used to connect plastic or silicone domes. The hearing aid receives sound, which moves through the ear mold into the ear canal.
BTE hearing aids are popular thanks to their varying degrees of amplification and easily adjustable power and performance. They’re also noted for being easy to maneuver for users with limited dexterity.
Like other hearing aids that don’t require surgical fitting, BTE hearing aids consist of the following elements:
According to Amy Stevenson, an audiologist at VCU Health in Richmond, Virginia, anyone who takes a hearing test and is confirmed to have hearing loss can benefit from BTE hearing aids. Jen Thomson, an audiologist and assistant director of audiology for Columbus Speech and Hearing in Ohio, agrees, noting the hearing aid’s versatility as well.
BTE hearing aids are more appropriate for people with severe hearing loss because they deliver more power, says Dr. Thomson. Additionally, people whose ears drain consistently or who have trouble with moisture in their ear canals might benefit from BTE hearing aids, as they’re easy to clean, she adds. What’s more, keeping the electronic components of the hearing aids behind the ear keeps the device from being exposed to wax and moisture which prevents breakdowns. Plus, BTE hearing aids are known for being easy to maintain and handle.
Hearing aid costs can vary widely, says Dr. Thomson, noting that a pair of prescription hearing aids can cost between $1,500 to $6,000. Pricing depends significantly on the type of hearing aid technology used. “The better the technology, the more expensive the hearing aid,” she says.
Prescription BTE hearing aids are often bundled with additional services, including hearing testing, hearing aid fitting and follow-up care from a hearing care professional, says Thomas Powers, Ph.D., an audiologist and expert audiology consultant for the Hearing Industries Association.
Over-the-counter (OTC) BTE hearing aids, however, are less expensive and cost about $300 to $900 a pair, according to Dr. Powers. OTC BTE hearing aids generally do not include any of the professional services that come with prescription hearing aids.
Medicare and many private insurance providers don’t cover hearing aids, but some Medicare Part C or Medicare Advantage plans cover hearing care services. Contact your health insurance provider to see if your plan covers hearing aids.
Some organizations, such as Medicaid or Veterans Affairs, may provide financial support for hearing care services for certain groups, such as people with low income as well.
You can get prescription BTE hearing aids through a hearing care professional, who can help determine the cause of your hearing loss and recommend the appropriate treatment for you. If BTE hearing aids work for your needs, a hearing care professional can also recommend the best brand and model for you, show you how to wear them, and provide aftercare service.
BTE hearing aids are also available over the counter. But you have to be over 18 and have perceived mild or moderate hearing loss to purchase. If you have severe hearing loss or experience any symptoms of ear problems, such as fluid in the ear, discomfort, episodes of vertigo or a history of excessive ear wax in your ear canal, see a medical professional before purchasing OTC hearing aids.
OTC hearing aids are available for purchase from hearing care technology companies like Lexie Hearing, Eargo and Go Hearing. When buying BTE hearing aids, Dr. Stevenson recommends considering your level of hearing loss and everyday needs. “What would work best is based on the person’s dexterity and everyday life,” she says. For instance, your use preferences may dictate whether you need disposable battery-powered or rechargeable hearing aids or hearing aids that can connect to a smartphone, she adds.
Dr. Powers also suggests users consider their lifestyle and occupation when deciding whether BTE hearing aids are right for them. “If you wear glasses or work in health care and need to wear a mask, you may find this combination (hearing aids with your glasses or mask) a bit challenging,” he says.
Note a hearing aid’s level of technology as well, suggests Dr. Stevenson. Because the features that come with your hearing aids impact your hearing experience and how much benefit you get.
“When purchasing BTE hearing aids, it’s important to understand how to take care of them and clean them,” adds Dr. Thomson. “Your audiologist will review this [information] with you during your fitting and follow-up appointments.” Users should also take time to understand their trial period, warranty information and follow-up services that come with their hearing aid purchase.
Before purchasing hearing aids, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders recommends asking your audiologist the following questions:
If you or a loved one are looking to purchase BTE hearing aids, we consulted audiologist Lindsey Banks, a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology and Forbes Health Advisory Board member, for her top BTE hearing aid recommendations to help start your search.
“The Naida Paradise comes in two power levels: the Power Rechargeable (PR), which is for mild to severe hearing loss, and the Ultra Power (UP), which is for severe to profound hearing loss,” explains Dr. Banks. “It has the best connectivity available, including Bluetooth call and TV streaming, as well as built-in receiver access to its FM system through Roger Direct.”
The Oticon More miniBTE hearing aid works for people with mild to moderate hearing loss, according to Dr. Banks. “The More line of hearing aids from Oticon utilizes a Deep Neural Network (DNN) on its Polaris processing platform, which is shown to improve speech understanding,” she adds.
This BTE hearing aid from Starkey comes in three power levels and size options. The mini is designed for people with mild to moderate hearing loss while the standard model can be used by people with moderate to severe hearing loss. The power model is for those navigating severe to profound hearing loss, explains Dr. Banks.
“The AI in the Evolv hearing aid seeks to make it a wellness device, not just a hearing device,” she adds. “Its fall alert system [in particular] may be critical for someone seeking to maintain their independence.
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Frances Gatta is a freelance health writer with experience covering health care technology, general health, mental health, femtech and personalized nutrition for companies and publications like Oura, Healthline, Remedy Health Media, Frontier Communications, Levels Health and more.
Sound Digital Amplifier Abram Bailey is a leading expert on consumer technology in the hearing care industry. He’s a staunch advocate for person-centered hearing care and audiological best practices, and he welcomes any technological innovation that improves access to quality hearing outcomes. Bailey holds a doctoral degree in audiology from Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Bailey is the chief executive officer of Hearing Tracker, Inc., an independent shopping resource that helps consumers find better hearing aids and better hearing professionals.