Since the arrival of the Starkey SoundLens nearly two years ago (June 2010) heralded a new era in invisible hearing aids a lot has happened in the market, it seems like a good point at which to reassess the subject.
The Starkey SoundLens (AKA OtoLens) was the first of its kind, a hearing aid that could truly be called invisible. Up until this point the hearing aid manufacturers and some national chains in particular had all been guilty of marketing their CIC (completely in canal) hearing aids as invisible.
Whilst it cannot be denied that CIC hearing aids are very neat and cosmetically attractive it is stretching it a bit to call them invisible. Maybe invisible from some angles and very discreet from others. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or seem very appetising from a marketing point of view but factually it is more appropriate.
Then along comes Starkey SoundLens, truly invisible hearing aids that sit so deep in the ear canal as to be invisible from any angle. What a proposition!…. So where is the catch?
The nature of the fitting of this type of product is that a very deep impression of the ear canal is needed for the manufacturing process, in fact the impression has to reach far deeper than a standard ear impression, pretty much touching the ear drum.
It can be uncomfortable for the client to take such a deep impression, and quite frankly there are a lot of hearing aid audiologists out there incapable of taking a safe impression this deep, or unqualified, or just fearful of the process.
Also for these invisible hearing aids to be suitable, your ear canal needs to be wide and tall enough to accept the minimum dimensions of the Starkey SoundLens, and other things can rule out being suitable such as waxy ear canals, tight bends in the ear canal, perforated eardrums etc.
However, once we take all this into account, around 5 or 6 out of 10 ear canals are capable of being fitted with Starkey SoundLens. At Digital Hearing Care we are among a small number of specialists in the north of England able to offer this product.
Since the Starkey SoundLens was launched a number of manufacturers have brought to market invisible hearing aids to try to compete with Starkey. None have gone down the route of sitting so deeply in the ear, rather adopting a more mass market approach.
All subsequent similar products could be classed a sub CIC, sitting deeper in the ear canal than a traditional CIC with components reduced in size, new shell and faceplate processes designed to aid in manufacturing more discreet hearing aids.
These products include, in order of release, the Siemens iMini, the Phonak Nano, and the newly released Oticon Intiga i. Other manufacturers are, we are promised, due to release similar products soon.
Generally they are marketed as invisible hearing aids or near invisible, and depending on space in the ear canal, tend to sit so deep in the ear canal and in deep shadow that they blend right in and are difficult to see from any angle.
This type of product is suitable for more clients, the estimate being around 8+ ear canals out of 10. An advantage is a very deep impression is not required, so the less able or qualified hearing aid audiologists (particularly from the national chains) are able in some cases to supply some of the very discreet hearing aids that we can as a matter of course.
The situation has not changed in 2 years that the deepest fitting and most invisible hearing aid is still the Starkey SoundLens, and this position is not likely to change any time soon in my opinion, the biggest issue being that the majority of hearing aid audiologists in the UK are unqualified or incapable of taking the necessary very deep impressions of the ear canal.
However, the newer products out there recently launched widen the scope for people looking for invisible hearing aids to a bigger audience. Our stance is, as you might expect, that if you desire invisible hearing aids that you approach us in the first instance. Whether you are suitable or unsuitable for such products we can offer all the products available on the UK market.
If you are outside our trading area we may know a hearing professional in your locality we can recommend, please just ask!