Types of hearing aids

Learn about the different types and styles of hearing aids.

Hearing aids are divided into a number of key categories - Behind the Ear (BTE), Inside the Ear (ITE), Receiver in the Ear (RITE), In the Canal (ITC), Completely in the Canal (CITC) and Over the Counter (OTC). There are also CROS (Contralateral Routing of Signal) and BICROS (Bicontralateral Routing of Signal) for people who have most or all of their hearing loss in one ear.

Behind the Ear Design (BTE)

Contralateral Routing of Signal (CROS)

Custom design (ITC)


BTE hearing aids are designed for people of all ages with mild to profound hearing loss1. Their electronics are housed in a shell that fits securely behind your outer ear. A small tube connects the shell with an ear mould, or dome, that carries sound into your ear canal. They come in two sub categories:

The classic BTE hearing aid has a moulded earpiece that fits snugly into the ear and a hard plastic case worn behind the ear. They are generally the largest and most visible types of hearing aids, and their greater battery capacity typically means greater amplification and more features. Their robust construction and easy to use controls make them a good choice for children and people with limited dexterity. They can help the largest range of hearing losses, from mild to profound.

Open fit
 BTE hearing aids are much smaller and less visible, although larger devices can be adjusted for a more open fit. Unlike the moulded earpiece designs, these aids feature a tiny dome or speaker in the ear canal, which doesn’t plug the ear canal. They are best suited to people with mild to moderately severe high-frequency losses. Open fit hearing aids may use very small batteries, and lack manual controls.

Completely in the Canal
 (CITC) hearing aids feature very small, virtually undetectable moulded plastic ear pieces which sit completely inside the ear canal. They can help people with mild to moderate hearing loss in adults, but aren’t suitable for those with small ear canals. As well as being the most discreet, CITC aids are better insulated from wind noise and are usually easy to use with the telephone. Because of their size, CITC aids typically have a shorter battery life and less features than other styles.

In the Canal (ITC) hearing aids have custom moulded ear pieces that fit partially in the ear canal. They are designed for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss but may not fit well in smaller ears. These aids are bigger than CITC aids, but have the potential to offer more features.

Inside the Ear (ITE) hearing aids come in custom moulded full shell and half-shell designs. The full-shell ITE aid fits most of the outer ear, so is more visible and likely to detect wind noise. This style can help people with mild to severe hearing loss, and is generally easier to insert in the ear, with more features and a longer battery life.

The half-shell ITE aids fill the lower portion of the outer ear, and are designed for people with mild to moderately severe hearing loss. ITE aids fit most ears and are big enough to house easy-to-adjust features such as volume and directional microphones.

Receiver in the Ear (RITE) hearing aids are a newer category, which combines the aesthetic and functional appeal of smaller devices with the advanced sound processing technology of larger BTE styles. A thin wire connects some of the smallest BTE shells to a receiver/speaker that sits inside the canal. RITE aids are best suited to people with mild to moderate loss, but may not fit well in smaller ears. They are easy to use with the telephone and can offer more features than CITC models, though their size may make them fiddly to adjust.

Contralateral Routing of Signal (CROS) hearing aid is for people with hearing loss in only one ear. Similarly, a Bicontralateral Routing of Signal (BICROS) is for a person with little or no hearing on one side and some hearing loss in their better ear. A moulded earpiece or a shell is placed on the hearing impaired side to gather sound, which is then transmitted through a wire or radio signal to a microphone worn on the normal ear.

Over the Counter (OTC) hearing aids are non-prescription devices that amplify sound for people with mild to moderate or high frequency hearing loss. OTC aids are ‘one size fits all’ devices, unlike prescription hearing aids which are fine-tuned to address the user’s specific hearing impairment.

1. AARP. Consumer Guide to Hearing Aids. Available from http://assets.aarp.org/www.aarp.org_/articles/health/docs/hearing_guide.pdf


The information on this website is for educational purposes, and is not intended to replace medical advice. Please consult a hearing healthcare professional to diagnose or treat a hearing or health problem.

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