If you have hearing loss, hearing aids may help you to hear better, communicate more confidently and live more independently.
Hearing aids can be helpful if you were born with a hearing impairment or your hearing has deteriorated but you have some hearing left.
This page is all about hearing aids. Find out more about hearing implants and other assistive listening devices.
On this page:
- What are hearing aids?
- How do hearing aids work?
- What can hearing aids do for me?
- Where to get hearing aids
- Types of hearing aid
- How to put in hearing aids
- How to clean hearing aids
- How often should you have a hearing test if you wear hearing aids?
- Top tips for getting used to hearing aids
- Help and support with hearing aids
What’s the difference between a hearing aid and a cochlear implant?
Hearing aids are devices that you wear in or over your ears to amplify sound. They support people with hearing loss to hear sounds more clearly.
Cochlear implants are devices that are placed inside or on your skull by a surgeon during an operation. They can help some people with severe or profound hearing loss to interpret sounds.
What are hearing aids?
Hearing aids are small devices that you can wear in or around your ears to help you hear sounds.
They make sounds louder so that they are easier to hear.
Not everybody with a hearing impairment can, or wants to, wear hearing aids.
How do hearing aids work?
Hearing aids usually have three basic parts:
- A microphone.
- An amplifier.
- A speaker/receiver.
These three parts work together to make sounds louder for you.
- The microphone picks up on sounds.
- The amplifier increases the volume of the sounds.
- The speaker/receiver plays the sound into your ear.
Hearing aids all use microphones to pick up noises and adjust sound digitally to make it louder and clearer. Hearing aids are personalised to your hearing and use your hearing test results to know which sounds to amplify.
Hearing aids are powered by batteries. You can now get rechargeable hearing aids, which saves you from having to replace the batteries.
What can hearing aids do for me?
Hearing aids won’t completely restore your hearing. But they can help you to hear better and feel more confident about communicating with people.
With hearing aids, you may:
- Follow conversations more easily, in quiet and noisier settings.
- Hear better on the phone.
- Hear everyday sounds like the doorbell.
- Enjoy music, TV and radio more clearly and without needing to have it at high volume.
- Hear quieter sounds more easily.
Where to get hearing aids
Hearing aids are available free of charge on the NHS, or you can choose to pay privately.
NHS hearing aids
If you would like to get your hearing aids on the NHS, you will need a referral from your GP to the local audiology department or accredited NHS hearing services.
Some departments will also let you contact them directly. This is called self-referral.
With NHS hearing aids:
- All your appointments are free, as are the hearing aids.
- You can get free batteries and repairs from the NHS hearing aid service that fitted your hearing aids. Just ask your audiologist.
- Your local hearing aid service can also replace hearing aids that have been lost or damaged, although there may be a charge for this.
What hearing aids are available on the NHS?
The NHS usually offers behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids, and sometimes receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) hearing aids.
The NHS offers many modern, digital types of hearing aid. The ones available to you will depend on the levels of hearing you have and what you want to use the hearing aid for.
Some people choose to go to private providers, where there might be more options available.
Private hearing aids
There are many private hearing aid providers available. You don’t need a referral to access these services.
If you’re happy to pay privately for hearing aids, you can pick from a wider range of models, which may include smaller, less visible models.
Shop around to see which types are available from different providers – and at what cost.
How much do hearing aids cost?
You could pay anything from £500 to £3,500 or more for a single hearing aid.
You will also need to think about the cost of replacing your batteries, and the cost of any repairs or fittings. Make sure you understand what is included in your payment plan.
Types of hearing aid
There are lots of different types of hearing aids available.
Your audiologist will talk you through the options of what will be best for you and your hearing loss. Not all hearing aids will be suitable for your needs and there are different considerations to think about.
These include the level and type of your hearing loss, the situations you want to be able to listen better in, the health of your ear and your dexterity.
The main types of hearing aid are:
Behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids
Behind-the-ear hearing aids are the most common type of hearing aid you will see. They can be used by people with most types of hearing loss.
They have a microphone unit that sits behind your ear, with a tube and ear piece that go into your ear.
There are different types of ear piece that you might be offered depending on your level of hearing and health of your ear. Some BTE hearing aids will have an open fitting, which is where a thin tube has a small soft tip that goes into your ear canal, others will have a custom made earmould.
Receiver in the ear (RITE) or receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids
Like BTE hearing aids, receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) and receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids have a piece that sits behind the ear, but they are usually slightly less visible.
A very thin wire connects the piece behind the ear to the receiver, or speaker, which sits inside your ear canal.
Because they are smaller than BTE hearing aids, they can be a bit more tricky to use.
In-the-ear (ITE) and in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids
Rather than having a microphone unit behind the ear, in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids sit inside your ear. They fill the area just outside the opening of your ear canal.
In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids, meanwhile, fit the working parts of the hearing aid inside the ear canal itself.
There are different sizes and types of ITE or ITC hearing aid depending on the level and type of hearing loss that you have. But they are usually only suitable for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids
Completely-in-the-canal or CIC hearing aids are sometimes known as “invisible hearing aids”.
They sit deeper inside your ear canal, where they are almost entirely hidden from view.
They are usually only suitable for people who have mild to moderate hearing loss.
Unlike other types of hearing aid, they can often only be put in or removed by a specialist. They might also have a shorter battery life (because the batteries are so small), and have fewer features than other hearing aids.
This type of hearing aid isn’t usually available on the NHS.
CROS/BiCROS hearing aids
This type of hearing aid is specifically for people who have hearing loss in one ear but not the other.
Contralateral routing of sound (CROS) hearing aids work by picking up sound in the ear that has hearing loss, and sending it to the ear with no hearing loss.
Bi-contralateral routing of sound (BiCROS) hearing aids amplify sounds from both ears, and send them to the hearing ear.
The sound could be sent wirelessly, or through a wire that connects the two aids.
Body worn hearing aids
Body worn hearing aids come with a small pack that you wear somewhere on your body, via a clip that attaches to your clothes.
The pack is connected through a wire to a soft tip that you palace inside your ear.
Body worn hearing aids can be very powerful, so they’re suitable for people with severe hearing loss. They are also sometimes used by people with visual impairments or mobility issues, or anyone who finds it difficult to use the fiddly controls on smaller hearing aids.
Bone anchored hearing aids
A bone anchored hearing aid (BAHA) is really a type of surgical implant. Find out more about hearing implants.
How to put in hearing aids
How to put your hearing aids in will depend on the exact type of hearing aid that you have.
Usually with BTE hearing aids, you’d place the earmould firmly inside your ear canal first, then position the microphone unit around the back of your ear.
All hearing aids are different. Your audiologist should show you how to put yours in, and then help you practice so that you become familiar with the process.
How to clean hearing aids
Keeping your hearing aids clean is important. Ear wax and moisture in your ears can build up, causing ear infections, or making the hearing aid itself not work as well.
How to clean your hearing aids will depend on what type you have.
You should be given a cleaning kit and some advice for your specific hearing aids when you get them. You should check with your specialist if you’re not sure what to do.
These are some general tips for keeping your hearing aids clean:
- Wash your hands. It’s important to have clean, dry hands before you start cleaning your hearing aids.
- Use the proper tools. You will usually be given a cleaning kit that may include a wax pick, a brush and dry cloth. These will help you get dirt and wax out of the small nook and crannies of your device.
- Avoid chemicals and alcohol. Cleaning products containing harsh chemicals could damage your hearing aids.
- Don’t submerge your hearing aid in water. They’re usually resistant to water, but not completely waterproof – so it’s best to avoid water when you’re cleaning your hearing aids.
How often should you have a hearing test if you wear hearing aids?
You should have your hearing tested and your hearing aids checked at least once every three years.
You should also book an appointment sooner if you notice any change in your hearing.
Top tips for getting used to hearing aids
When you first get hearing aids
- It may be hard to get used to your hearing aids at first.
- Slowly spend more time using your hearing aids, from once or twice a day for just an hour or two. Do this in quiet surroundings.
- The more you wear your hearing aids, the faster you’ll get used to them. So, wear them for as long as you can.
Wearing hearing aids around the home
- Don’t wear them for showering or while sleeping.
- Listen to everyday noises such as the kettle boiling, the fridge humming and doors opening and closing.
- Remember: your brain adjusted to hearing with your hearing loss, so it might need time to re-learn which sounds are important and which can be ignored.
- Use your hearing aids when you watch TV to adjust to different sounds.
- Try watching TV with the sound at different volume levels. Compare your usual volume level to what sounds better now.
Wearing hearing aids outside
- As your hearing aids start to feel more comfortable, wear them outdoors and get used to keeping them on all day.
- When you practise using your hearing aids outside, you might hear sounds such as birds chirping and traffic noise more than you’re used to.
- If you have two hearing aids, wear them both at the same time.
Using your hearing aids in conversation
- Try having a conversation with one person – you may find you hear your own voice more than you’re used to, a bit like an echo. Don’t worry, you’ll soon get used to it the more you wear your hearing aids.
- Also, in conversation with one person, choose a quiet place with good light, with the other person facing you. This makes it easier to lipread them. Explain that you’re getting used to wearing your hearing aids and ask the person to be patient.
- Try group conversations – you might find that you can follow conversations more easily and enjoy group situations more.
- In group conversations, explain that you’re getting used to your hearing aids, and remind people they still need to get your attention before speaking to you. You can then turn and face them, which will help you hear better with your hearing aids.
- When you feel ready, use your hearing aids in difficult, noisy places like restaurants or train stations. The more you’ve worn them, the better you’ll manage with background noise.
Help and support with hearing aids
You might find hearing aids difficult at first. It may take you a few weeks or months to get used to them.
You’ll have follow-up appointments after they’re fitted to check how things are going.
But if you have any problems, get in touch with your audiologist.
The following organisations also offer further information, help and support:
- C2Hear for interactive multimedia videos on hearing aids and how to hear well.
- RNID’s online support service.
- RNID partnership with audiology services in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
You can also find out about using hearing aids with assistive technology, including computers, hearing loops, telephones, alert systems and other devices that help you get on with everyday life.
Get in touch
Get in touch for more information and advice about communication.
This content was last reviewed in September 2023. We’ll review it again in 2025.