By Jenn Schumacher, AuD
Audiologist and Manager of Audiology Communications for GN Hearing
In 2019, 78 percent of hearing aids purchased in the U.S. were a style worn behind the ear called receiver-in-the-ear (RIE), while only 12 percent were custom hearing aids.1
But that wasn’t always the case. Throughout the 1990s until 2003, nearly 100 percent of hearing aids were custom, in-the-ear hearing aids or were fitted with a custom ear mold.2
Why this dramatic switch? RIEs grew in popularity because they address issues with occlusion for people with milder low-frequency hearing loss, while maintaining cosmetic appeal with a relatively small size and thin receiver wire. Coupled with advanced technology features (e.g. Bluetooth connectivity and rechargeability), it’s understandable that RIEs became the dominant style.
But a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for everyone. Custom hearing aids still serve people who are looking for a more customized, discreet and stylish form, or who may have struggled to acclimate to devices that sit behind the ear. And advances in more powerful, smaller technological components now provide most of the same benefits and features found in RIEs, including Bluetooth streaming, hands-free calls and rechargeability.
Today, an additional advantage of custom hearing aids is emerging, especially as people become more accustomed to regular use of earbuds and other hearable devices.
One recent internal GN study showed that nearly 6 in 10 people who are potential hearing aid wearers first use headphones or earbuds to improve their hearing, even though they aren’t yet ready to commit to hearing aids.3 In another internal study conducted in 2021, nearly half of respondents with mild-to-moderate hearing loss who are not yet using hearing aids reported interest in using a custom hearing aid solution.4
This tells us that the number of people interested in using custom hearing aids could soon be on the rise.
Easy to handle
One common reason hearing care professionals (HCPs) recommend a custom hearing device is for the ease of handling a single, one-piece design. A custom shell can be easier to insert into and remove from the ear canal, especially for those who experience problems with dexterity or raising their arm to properly place a behind the ear instrument on top of their pinna.
The size of a custom device also provides advantages depending on each person’s individual needs. For those with dexterity issues, a larger in-the-ear (ITE) or full shell in-the-canal (ITC) device can provide more surface area for a better grip, while the smaller ITC and completely-in-canal (CIC) devices can provide reduced visibility for those more concerned with cosmetics.
Either way, custom-made hearing aids have the added benefit that they will not interfere with glasses or face masks.
Ease of handling is now extending to more aspects of the custom hearing aid experience, and it is something that can be beneficial to all clients. Rechargeable batteries are now available in custom devices, which can reduce the burden of daily care and maintenance.
The charging case for the newly introduced Customs by ReSound have charging inserts that are a “mirror image” of the person’s own ear canals. This allows for a snug, intuitive fit inside the charging case for consistent, worry-free charging.
When the hearing aids are ready to be used again, the placement of the charging inserts means the hearing aids are in the already in the correct orientation right out of the case for easier insertion into the ear.
Indeed, internal tests show that the Customs by ReSound rechargeable devices can be removed from the charger and inserted into the ear twice as fast, on average, as rechargeable RIE devices.5 The case also features a wax trap that helps automatically clean out any debris from the end of the shell at the end of each day.
And the same people who benefit from the easier handling of a single-piece hearing aid will also no longer need to change batteries or work as hard to keep their hearing aids in good working condition.
The perfect fit requires in-clinic HCP skill
Ensuring the best fit and hearing experience with custom hearing aids does require an extra bit of care during the creation and fitting process – both from the HCP and the device manufacturer.
A Customs by ReSound set of hearing aids are expertly customized going through several precision manufacturing steps in order to come to life.
Receiving the earmold impressions from the HCP, whether by mail or digitally, is just the first step. The impressions are converted into 3D scans, where the technician can plan how each individual hearing aid will be built. There are a wide variety of smaller parts – such as the microphones, receiver, antenna and push button – that must all be contained within the shell and faceplate, along with space for a possible vent. Once designed, the custom shell is 3D printed and all the components are combined into one complete device, all custom built uniquely for an individual ear anatomy.
Several updates to the manufacturing process have been implemented with the introduction of Customs by ReSound. This allows us to accommodate the new rechargeable functionality, but also improves the overall accuracy of the device build. These updates include:
- A revised, simplified process for combining the device components that reduces variation and increases consistency in the final product.
- There is a higher “resolution” used during the 3D printing process of the custom shell. This means the resulting canal portion of Customs by ReSound devices are a more accurate representation of the earmold impression from which they are built, with a higher quality finish.
- The earmold impression used to create the custom hearing aid can now also be used to create a “negative” impression for the charging insert in the hearing aid case. Both the hearing aid shell and charging case are printed out together. Because the shape of the charging insert is a direct reflection of the custom portion of the shell, there is a consistent fit with the inductive charging contacts inside the case.
HCPs uniquely excel at the specialized skills of impression taking and device fitting that are needed for a successful custom fitting.
Creating a well-fitting custom hearing aid means not just capturing the shape of the ear canal accurately, but also knowing how to modify impression taking techniques, and the resulting devices, to obtain a snug yet comfortable fit, all while minimizing issues with occlusion and feedback.
- Strom, K. (2020). Hearing aid unit sales increase by 6.5% in 2019. Hearing Review, 27(2), 6,34.
- Strom, K. (2021, June 4). A Brief History of Hearing Aid Styles, 1991-2020. Hearing Review. https://hearingreview.com/hearing-products/hearing-aids/a-brief-history-of-hearing-aid-styles.
- (2021). GN Fidelity End User multi-market study Internal report, unpublished.
- Ipsos (2021). Pre-user segmentation, Descriptive Report. Internal report, unpublished.
- Sjolander, L., et al. (2022). Convenience and rechargeability in a custom hearing aid. ReSound white paper.
Whatever you think about hearing aids, think again
Introducing an exciting new design, custom made for you by ReSound.