Hearing aids are characterized by steady progress in
technological advancement, even while the lack of progress in lowering hearing aid prices
and improving distribution continues to frustrate hearing aids users. We’ve frequently
written about issues with hearing aid costs and hearing aid distribution; this
entry will focus on technological progress, as represented by the increasing
popularity of receiver-in-canal technology.
Within the behind-the-ear hearing aid category, hearing aids can be further subdivided into Receiver-in-the-Aid (“RITA” or “traditional”) and Receiver-in-the-Canal (“RIC” or “external”). The receiver – or speaker – amplifies sound, which must pass through a tube to the ear canal (in an RITA) or is simply projected directly into the canal (in an “RIC”).
If it seems obvious that placing the speaker in the canal will yield better, relative to forcing sound to travel an extra distance through an external tube… well, that’s about right.
A 2010 paper for the Journal of American Audiology that compared RITA to RIC hearing aids found that RIC models were equal or superior in all measured respects. Specifically:
· RIC hearing aids reduced feedback. They were able to produce higher gain (louder amplification), without feedback.
· 76% of study participants preferred RIC hearing aids to RITA
· This preference held both for new hearing aid users (74%) and experienced hearing aid users (80%)
In short, the study strongly suggested the superiority of RIC hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing aids (and is one of the reasons Embrace Hearing sells RIC devices). So if the study was released in 2010, why is it newsworthy today?
Because hearing aids are only replaced once every several years, it takes time to observe whether the implications of academic studies are actually being observed in clinics across the country and translating into differences in recommendations and ultimately hearing aid fittings.
By comparing 2012 statistical data from the Hearing Industries Association to 2010 data, we can see that far more people in 2012 are wearing RIC hearing aids than in 2010.
This is great news, because it shows that the hearing aid distribution system worked. In just two years, a combination of technical advancements, empirical academic studies, and coordination between manufacturers and audiologists and hearing aid dispensers let to a major improvement in the types of hearing aids distributed. The real winners here are hearing aid users, who are likely to experience improved satisfaction with their hearing aids and ultimately improved quality of life.