Dennis Van Vliet, Au.D & Jason A. Galster, Ph.D.
A Completely-In-The-Canal (CIC) hearing aid can be defined by the location of the faceplate, 1-2 mm inside the aperture of the ear canal (Gudmundsen, 1994). For years the CIC has been the benchmark for small, near-invisible hearing aids. Publications have documented the benefits of CIC fittings, including decreased occlusion (Mueller, 1994), increased satisfaction (Ebinger, Mueller, Holland & Holland, 1994), decreased amplification wind noise (Fourtune & Preves, 1994), and improved localization when compared to Behind-The-Ear (BTE) fittings (Best, Kalluri, McLachlan, Valentine, Edwards & Charlile, 2010). All of these benefits were realized as a result of the fitting style.
Advances in digital modeling, laser-shell fabrication and modern microchip packaging techniques have resulted in hearing aids that are smaller and more powerful than those of the past. Today, custom hearing aids that fit deeply into the ear canal can be built on a routine basis. In fact, hearing aids can now be built to fit past the second bend of the ear canal, allowing the faceplate to be seated deeply in the ear, providing an invisible hearing aid fitting. The performance and cosmetic advantages of this fitting style appeal to a wide variety of hearing aid candidates, many of whom may not consider more visible hearing aid options.
A New Category of Hearing Aid
The convergence of hearing-related technologies allows the CIC to be made smaller than ever; small enough that they can be fit past the second bend of the ear canal. These deeply inserted hearing aids are effectively invisible to others. When the hearing aid is fit to the second bend of the ear canal, it may be considered an Invisible-In-The-Canal, or IIC, a new category with respect to size and position of the device. An IIC hearing aid is one in which the faceplate is at or near the second bend of the ear canal, and the medial aspect of the shell is much closer to the eardrum. The deeper position of the hearing aid allows for several technical advantages.
Acoustic Benefits of Canal Hearing Aid Fitting
The ear canal and pinna filter the natural spectrum of sound before it reaches the eardrum. Microphone placement on BTE hearing aids reduces some of these beneficial effects. The loss of these acoustic cues results in degradation of the wearer's ability to localize sounds. Data collected at Starkey Laboratories, Inc. Suggest that canal placement of the hearing aid microphone retains some aspect of the ears' natural filtering as compared to the microphone placement of a BTE style hearing aid. Data supports the expectation that canal placement of the microphone, as provided by the IIC hearing aid, will allow for improved localization ability when compared to a BTE hearing aid fitting (Best et al., 2010).
The reduced residual ear canal volume associated with an IIC fitting also affects the sound pressure level at the eardrum, effectively increasing the overall efficiency of the hearing aid. As Boyle's law states, as volume decreases, pressure increases. Thus, a smaller volume between the end of the hearing aid and the tympanic membrane yields a greater sound pressure level for equal receiver output.
Impressions for the IIC
The key to an accurate and comfortable fit with IIC hearing aids is an ear impression that extends 10-12 mm beyond the second bend. A good understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the ear canal along with deliberate technique make it possible to safely and easily obtain the impressions necessary for building IIC hearing aids. No special equipment is necessary for IIC impressions. However, instrumentation to illuminate and view the ear canal beyond the second bend is valuable. Silicone impressions take with a high flow, low viscosity material will typically fill the entire canal accurately and completely.
After taking a careful patient history and observing clinically appropriate safety procedure, a flattened oto-dam is placed deep in the canal, very near to the tympanic membrane. Lubrication of the oto-dam with Oto-Ease or a similar agent will improve comfort while placing the oto-dam and ease release of the silicone impression from the ear. Starkey as developed a vented cotton oto-dam that can be used to equalize pressuring during the removal of the cured impression. With proper counseling, the patient experience during impression taking and removal is very similar to standard impressions.
Modern hearing aid processing and laser shell fabrication have made the creation of small, deep-fitting hearing aids a possibility. Existing worries of feedback have been addressed with feedback cancellation and the patient's experience is being improved by advanced directional and noise reduction technologies. The end result is a highly-featured, premium hearing aid that is invisible when worn, meets the needs of the most discriminating patient.
ANSI (2004). ANSI S3.35 "Method of measurement of performance characteristics of hearing aids under simulated real-ear working conditions" (American National Standards Institute, New York).
Best, V., Kalluri, S., McLachlan, S., Valentine, S., Edwards, B., & Charlie, S. (2010). A comparison of CIC and BTE hearing aids for three-dimensional localization of speech. International Journal of Audiology, Early Online, 1-10.
Edinger, K.A., Muller, G.H., Holland, S.A., & Holland, J.W. (1994). Assesing the speech-understanding benefit from CIC hearing aids. The Hearing Journal, 47(11), 35-42.
Fourune, T., & Preeves, D. (1994). Effects of CIC, ITC, and ITE microphone placement on the amplification of wind noise. The Hearing Journal, 47(11), 23-27.
Gudmundsen, G. (1994). Fitting CIC Hearing Aids-Some Practical Pointers. The Hearing Journal, 47(11), 10, 45-48.
Muller, G.H. (1994). CIC hearing aids: What is their impact on the occlusion effect. The Hearing Journal, 47(11), 29-35.