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 (BTE) hearing aid category, hearing aids can be further subdivided into Receiver-in-the-Aid (“RITA” or “traditional”) and Receiver-in-the-Canal (“RIC”). The receiver – or speaker – amplifies sound, which must pass through a tube to the ear canal (in an RITA) or is simply projected directly from a speaker in 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 3-5 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.

Today, almost 75% of hearing aids sold in the US are "BTE"s and of those, the vast majority are "RIC"s (receiver in canal).

This is great news, because it shows that the hearing aid distribution system worked. In just a few 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.