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Hearing aids guide 2024

Audiologist Emily Woodmansey

Hearing loss is the second most common disability in the UK, but if it is identified early enough, hearing aids can be completely transformative. Yet fewer than one-third of people in the UK who could benefit from them actually use them.

When exploring whether hearing aids could be a suitable option, many people turn to the internet for guidance. There is so much confusing information out there it’s hard to know where to start.

So, we’ve done the legwork for you and come up with a comprehensive overview of everything you might need to know about hearing aids. 

We have set out the different routes you can take to getting the best hearing aids for you, and using our expertise, we’ve chosen five hearing aids to suit you, whatever your needs and – importantly – your budget. 

Request a free audiologist consultation

How we research and review hearing aids

Hearing aids compared
hours spent researching
Customer reviews read
Experts consulted

Our researchers and reviewers are dedicated to bringing you the most accurate and up-to-date information so you can make an informed decision when it comes to getting a hearing test and choosing a hearing aid.

We will only recommend a hearing aid after hours of research, head-to-head feature comparisons, and after taking into account verified customer feedback and reviews and the opinions of industry experts.

All of our health articles are fact-checked and verified by our in-house team of fact-checkers, so you can be assured that our content is as accurate and up to date as possible.

For more information on our methodology, read about how we cover hearing aids.

What is a hearing aid?

A hearing aid is an electronic device that helps you to hear and understand more clearly, and is worn in or behind the ear. They are designed primarily to amplify speech and make it more distinct from background noise.

All hearing aids comprise three main components: a microphone, which picks up sound; an amplifier, which adjusts the sound and makes it louder; and a speaker or receiver, which passes the sound signal into your ear. 

According to Hearing Link Services, part of the Hearing Dogs for Deaf People charity, around 2 million people in the UK use hearing aids.

Crucially, hearing aids don’t fix your hearing or cure hearing loss, but they can make your life easier.

man having a hearing aid fitted
Over-the-ear hearing aids are more visible than in-the-ear but have a longer battery life (Adobe)

Types of hearing aids

Hearing aids have come a long way since the days when the only option was a large, beige-coloured contraption made of plastic that clamped conspicuously behind the wearer’s ear. They’ve gotten smaller yet more powerful and discreet over the years. 

It’s worth noting that manufacturers and suppliers often use different terminology to refer to the same style of hearing aid, which can be really confusing. But essentially, there are two main types: behind-the-ear hearing aids and in-the-ear hearing aids.

Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids

behind-the-ear-hearing aids-diagram
BTE hearing aids house the microphone and amp in the main housing, with the speaker connected via a short cable (Adobe)

These comprise a hard case that rests behind your ear and houses the microphone and amplifier. They can be used with either an earmold or a dome, which contains the receiver or speaker. The case is attached to the earmold or dome by a clear, thin tube that hooks over the top of your ear.

Earmolds are usually made of plastic or silicone. They sit in the middle part of the ear called the concha, so they are custom-made to fit the size and shape of your ear.

Ear domes are small, cone-shaped tips that look like the changeable tips you get with in-ear headphones. They are positioned in your ear canal and they come in standard fits.

BTE hearing aids with ear domes are usually called receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) or receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) hearing aids.

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids

in-ear-hearing aids diagram
With ITE hearing aids, everything is housed in the in-ear component (Adobe)

In-the-ear hearing aids contain the microphone, amplifier and receiver in a single component you wear completely in your ear. There are a few different sizes and styles, with some fitting deep inside your ear canal and others that are placed just at the entrance to your ear canal.

The largest style is an in-the-canal hearing aid, and it sits in the lower part of the concha. You can still see in-the-canal hearing aids, so they usually come in different colours to match a range of skin tones.

If you’re looking for something more discrete, then there are completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids, which you place right into your ear canal. They are just about visible if you look hard enough, but they’re typically very discreet.

The smallest and least obtrusive type of in-the-ear device is an invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) hearing aid. As the name suggests, this tiny piece of equipment is designed to be positioned deep into your ear canal so you can’t see it at all.

You might encounter the terms CROS and BiCROS. These are hearing aids for people who have total hearing loss in one ear, and either good hearing or partial hearing loss in their hearing ear. Sound is transmitted from the hearing aid in the ear with no hearing to the device in the better ear so sound can be heard in 360 degrees.

What type of hearing aid is right for me?

behind ear and in ear hearing aids in the hands of a man being offered
The type of hearing aid best suited for you will depend on the features you want and the lifestyle you lead (Adobe)

It can be a minefield trying to work out which type of hearing aid to choose, especially when it involves cutting through reams of jargon and unfamiliar terminology. The only way of knowing what type to go for is to get advice from an expert.

As a first step, you should always have a hearing test performed by an audiologist, as they’ll be able to tell you whether you have mild, moderate or severe hearing loss. If it’s severe, it’s likely to rule out CIC hearing aids, which are too small to provide powerful enough amplification.

That said, if your hearing loss is on the milder end of the spectrum but you like gadgets packed with the latest technology, you might prefer a BTE hearing aid. There’s enough room on even the smallest, sleekest designs – sometimes called mini-BTE hearing aids – to house an abundance of clever features.

You’ll also need to consider your individual circumstances and preferences, such as when and for how long you’re likely to wear your hearing aids, how much time you spend in crowded, noisy places, and how easily you can manage fiddly controls.

We suggest you narrow down the choices with the help of your audiologist, and wherever possible, try the options out before making a final decision.

Advice on choosing the right hearing aid for you –
Emily Woodmansey, Audiologist

Emily Woodmansey

When choosing the right hearing aid for you, there are several factors to consider. I always start with your hopes, look at your hearing test results, and the kind of environments you experience on a day-to-day basis.

Starting with those hopes – are you looking for discretion above all things? In which case we would consider invisible or completely-in-the-canal hearing aids. Or is hearing in a noisy environment your biggest priority? We know we will get the best results in complex listening environments with receiver-in-canal hearing aids and maybe a gadget to assist.

Then talking test results – different hearing aid manufacturers are better suited to different types of hearing loss. Say for example it’s the clarity (beginnings and ends of words) that you need. Phonak would be an excellent choice. Alternatively, if your hearing loss is particularly flat and low down on the chart, Oticon would work well to give a mix of volume and clarity.

And finally, your day-to-day life – do you go to lots of meetings? Enjoy watching TV but need the subtitles? Need more distinction in phone calls? Want to bring in health monitoring like fall detection? Or have the ability to track your new hearing aids through an app if they get lost?

All of these factors are important when weighing up which hearing aids will suit you, your lifestyle and existing technology (the brand of phone, TV or tablet you might have).

The difference between analogue and digital hearing aids

Nearly all hearing aids these days are digital. That means their capabilities go well beyond just amplifying sound, which was essentially what the analogue hearing aids of old were designed to do.

Nowadays, analogue hearing aids are more or less obsolete, so whatever your degree of hearing loss and preferences, there are lots of features and functions to consider.

Hearing aid features to think about

With so many features to choose from with modern hearing aids, it can be difficult to determine which ones you really need. We’ve listed what we think are some of the most important features to consider when choosing a hearing aid.

Noise reduction

The main advantage of digital hearing aids is that they make the sounds you want to hear more audible and suppress or filter out other sound and noise, mimicking the way the brain and auditory system naturally process and interpret sound in hearing people.

For that reason, most hearing aids have a degree of noise reduction to minimise unwanted sounds, like wind noise or noise from machinery.

Directional microphones

Directionality helps you to filter out sounds that aren’t important in that moment to allow you to focus on those that are – mainly speech. Typically, directional microphones amplify sound coming from in front of you, making it easier to hold a conversation without picking up lots of background noise, for example.

The most advanced hearing aids boast adaptive directional microphones, which take sound from a single direction but can change direction automatically when you move between different hearing environments with different levels of noise.


Many hearing aids are powered by small, round zinc-air batteries, so named because they’re made of zinc and they’re activated by exposure to air. They come in four sizes, each with a different capacity, and last between three days and three weeks.

However, increasingly more hearing aids are rechargeable, with a lithium-ion battery integrated into the device itself. When the hearing aids run low on power, you take them out and connect them to a charging outlet.

Each type has advantages and drawbacks, depending on your lifestyle and preferences. Zinc air batteries are relatively cheap and are widely available, but have a limited charge and cannot be recharged, meaning you’ll have to replace them often. Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, are initially expensive but can be recharged many times over, saving money in the long run. However, you will need to have access to a socket (or a portable battery) if they run down while you’re away from home.


In a world where connectivity underpins every aspect of our lives, it’s no surprise that hearing aid manufacturers often incorporate Bluetooth technology as standard across their ranges. Bluetooth allows you to connect your hearing aids to other Bluetooth-enabled devices, like smartphones, computers and TVs, and stream audio directly to your hearing aid.

Some hearing aids are ‘Made for iPhone’, so they may not work with devices that don’t use Apple’s iOS operating system. Others may connect via Bluetooth with other operating systems, like Android, to stream audio, but you won’t be able to use some wireless features, like hands-free phone calls.


A telecoil or t-coil – a tiny piece of copper wire inside some hearing aids – works with hearing loop systems to make it easier for people with hearing loss to hear and understand sound in public places such as cinemas, train stations and places of worship.

For example, if you’re in a supermarket that’s installed with a hearing loop system, switching your hearing aid’s t-coil on will help you to better hear the cashier’s voice amid all the background noise.

A t-coil also works well with a traditional telephone handset. It can receive the electromagnetic signal directly from the handset, eliminating any feedback.

What to consider before buying a hearing aid

Once you’ve had your consultation and hearing test, it’ll be time to consider which hearing aid is right for you.

If you’re paying for your hearing aids, the first thing you’ll want to know is how much they cost. Think not only about the price of the hearing aids, but whether it includes batteries, charging systems, accessories, servicing or maintenance, and the cost of any future consultations. This all adds up over time, so it’s a significant investment.

Some providers offer financing options to help you spread the cost of hearing aids. Ask your audiologist or hearing aid supplier what’s available.

You’ll probably spend a lot of your time with your hearing aids in, so it’s important they’re comfortable and fit well. Providers sometimes offer a try-before-you-buy option, so you can get an idea of how hearing aids fit and feel before shelling out a lot of money.

Other factors to consider include how severe your hearing loss is, and the types of listening situations you find most difficult, such as having conversations at home with your partner, hearing the TV, working in a busy open-plan office, speaking on the phone, and so on.

Finally, think about what features and specs you’d like. Many hearing aid models are brimming with advanced technology, whether or not you want or will use it.

We’ve selected four things to look for, other than cost, that you should bear in mind when choosing hearing aids: what type of battery (rechargeable or disposable); what level of hearing loss they are designed for; whether they have Bluetooth connectivity; and whether they have the capacity for telecoil.

Which types of hearing aids are available on the NHS?

Hearing aids are available on the NHS for most people who have a diagnosable hearing loss, but you’re limited to a smaller selection – quite often only BTE hearing aids. NHS hearing aids are supplied to you on loan, and you might have to contribute financially towards replacing them if they get lost or damaged.

You’ll still usually have some choice on the NHS, and providers offer hearing aids from the same manufacturers as those you’ll access if you go private.

Since 2012, the NHS in England has operated the any qualified provider (AQP) scheme, which permits accredited high street providers that sell hearing aids to offer NHS hearing aids for free.

As a result of the scheme, you have more choice of where you can go to have your hearing tested, get fitted for hearing aids if you need them, and have all your follow-up treatment and hearing aid maintenance, all paid for by the NHS. AQP isn’t available everywhere and it’s usually only offered to over-55s.

However, you can choose to pay for your hearing tests and hearing aids yourself. You’ll certainly get a wider choice and can have your pick of hearing aid styles, brands, and technology levels. The only limitations are your budget – hearing aids can cost upwards of £3,500 for a single aid – and in some cases, your degree of hearing loss.

One of the main advantages of going private is bypassing NHS waiting times, which can be months. You shouldn’t have to wait longer than 18 weeks between GP referral and having your hearing aids ready.

If you have private health cover, ask your insurer whether your policy covers audiology services and hearing aids.

Why would someone choose a private or high street retailer over the NHS?
Emily Woodmansey, Audiologist

Emily Woodmansey

The NHS does a fantastic job with the resources it has. We do find that some people who have tried the NHS as an option to improve their hearing are looking for something more – either more comfort, better sound or connectivity, or a clinician with a certain specialism – and now they are exploring private options.

In the private sector, waiting times are small or negligible; typically people can expect to have their hearing assessed within a week, and hearing aids (depending on the style) either fitted the same day or within a couple of weeks. 

There is also more flexibility over the style of hearing aid, technology level and manufacturer when using a private clinic or high street retailer. In private clinics you are also often able to find out more about the audiologist that you will be seeing, and look at their qualifications, experience and areas of specialism in advance of your appointment.

The other thing to consider is the care that you will receive once your hearing aids have been fitted. Is it important to you that you see the same clinician each time so they understand your history? Do you want to be able to contact a clinic, hospital or call centre to book or change future appointments? Will there be parking nearby? To some people, these things will be hugely important, and it’s worth asking about them when you book your appointment. For others, they might have less significance.

How to get hearing aids

There are three ways to get a hearing aid in the UK:

  1. The NHS via a GP
  2. From a high street retailer such as Amplifon or Specsavers
  3. Through an independent hearing clinic

For each path you’ll need to get a hearing test from a qualified audiologist.

Request a free audiologist consultation

NHS hearing aids versus high street and independent

NHSHigh streetIndependent
Appointment timeSlowQuickQuick
After sales/fitting careLimitedGoodBest

What’s the process of getting a hearing aid?

woman having a hearing aid test wearing headphones
An audiologist will test your hearing and give you advice on a suitable hearing aid (Adobe)

1. Visit your GP, or make an appointment at a high street or independent hearing specialist

The first step if you think you’re experiencing hearing loss is to visit your GP, who will arrange for you to have some hearing tests.

You might be able to have them at your GP practice, but more detailed hearing tests need to be carried out by an audiologist. Your GP can refer you to a hospital or community audiology clinic and, under the AQP scheme outlined above, you might also be able to choose to go to a high street provider.

You don’t have to speak to your GP at all if you think you might need hearing aids, but you should always have your hearing tested by a qualified audiologist before thinking about buying. If you haven’t been referred by a healthcare professional, you’ll have to pay for your consultations and hearing tests.

Several well-known high street optician brands now offer audiology services and provide hearing aids. These include:

  • Specsavers
  • Boots
  • Amplifon
  • Hidden Hearing
  • Scrivens
  • Leightons

If you choose to go down this route, you’ll also need to have a consultation with an in-store audiologist and have hearing tests. These will be similar to the ones you’d have done at your GP practice, and may also include some more detailed hearing tests if you need them. 

There are some advantages to using a high street hearing specialist, whether it’s through the AQP scheme or you book independently and pay for the service yourself.  First, the fact that you can find hearing specialists on most high streets means they are a really convenient option for many people. 

Another significant benefit is that it’s likely you won’t have a long wait to see an audiologist, which you might well experience in the NHS.

A third option if you want to avoid long waiting lists but you’re unsure about high street hearing aids is to make an appointment with an independent provider. A quick online search will show you what’s available to you locally.

2. Consultation and fitting

man with new hearing aid
A bespoke ear piece – one that is moulded to your ear – can improve the fit and audio quality (Adobe)

Once you’ve had a consultation with an audiologist and the hearing checks you need, your audiologist will talk you through the results and discuss hearing aid options with you.

Setting out your budget from the start can help you avoid unpleasant surprises further down the line. Talk to your audiologist about how much you can afford to pay, and together you can come up with an idea of how far your money will stretch.

Some services will usually be included in the initial outlay when you buy hearing aids, like having a bespoke earpiece made and fitted and configuring your hearing aids’ settings so they’re personalised to you. 

But it’s crucial that you know exactly what you’re paying for. Audiologists have a duty of care to be honest and upfront about their charges and what extras or additional services are covered. If it’s not transparent, ask.

Tip: Don’t buy direct without a hearing test

Many online retailers now sell hearing aids, and have the freedom to supply a huge range of brands and styles. Online companies are legally required to offer you a hearing assessment, so if you come across a website that will sell you hearing aids without one, steer well clear.

What happens during a hearing test (and why the test is important) –
Emily Woodmansey, Audiologist

Emily Woodmansey

When people go for a hearing test it is common practice for a case history to be taken, looking at the kind of difficulties you may be having, and an overview of your hearing health. Your audiologist will look inside your ears to check for any wax or foreign bodies, and arrange for them to be cleaned before any further testing.

Audiometry is what people commonly refer to as hearing testing and is a vital part of taking care of our hearing. Equipment should be calibrated annually, and ideally, testing would occur in a soundproof booth or room. The testing is done with headphones, which either go over your ears or push inside, and a tight band that goes behind one ear.

Audiologists have to create an audiogram to see your hearing thresholds (the quietest sounds that you can hear) across the speech frequency range (250Hz-8kHz). That’s what they are doing when they ask you to press the button every time you hear a sound, even if it’s very faint. This chart or graph gives the audiologist information about the level of your hearing, the health of your ears and possible causes of your hearing loss.

You may also have tympanometry (middle ear measurements) and a range of speech testing performed. This will give your audiologist extra information and help them to advise you.

Hearing testing allows your audiologist to establish whether your hearing is healthy, or whether it needs further investigation by an ear nose and throat (ENT) consultant. ENT consultants can be seen through the NHS or privately.

Hearing aids Q&A

While it’s nice to save money wherever we can, it’s important to consider more than just cost when choosing your hearing aids. You have to feel comfortable in them, which is why it’s important to see an audiologist to have a hearing test and hearing aid fitting appointment to ensure you have the best fit for your ears – and this has as much to do with the type of hearing aid as it does the shape of the receiver that goes into your ear. Cheap hearing aids may also mean you miss out on new technology that can enhance your hearing even further. If budget is a concern for you, you can consider getting your hearing aids through the NHS. Many high street providers offer affordable prices, particularly if they sell their own range of hearing aids, as well as money back guarantees if you’re not happy with your product.

According to the NHS website, hearing aids that are provided free of charge are typically only the behind-the-ear (BTE) type, though some receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) models are available. If you want a different type, you likely will need to pay for private treatment or visit a high street provider.

If you choose to get your hearing aids through the NHS, they will be provided to you free of charge as a long-term loan. Batteries and repairs are also free, though you may be charged if you lose or break your hearing aids and need replacements. You also do not have to pay for the initial assessment or any follow-up appointments. However, you are limited on the type of hearing aids you can choose, as the NHS typically only provides the behind-the-ear (BTE) type.

If you decide to visit a private hearing clinic or a high street retailer, you will be charged for the initial hearing test and consultation, the hearing aids themselves, batteries, repairs, and any follow-up appointments out of pocket. However, the waiting time for getting hearing aids through the NHS can sometimes be longer than private treatment.

After your initial consultation and fitting at Specsavers, the waiting time to get your hearing aids depends on the type you have chosen. If the store has your desired model in stock, you might be able to get them fitted the same day as your hearing test. If they have to be ordered, they can take up to five days to arrive for open-fit types, or up to two weeks for custom-made units.

Phonak says the typical lifespan of hearing aids is about six years, though some styles might last longer. Most manufacturers recommend replacing your hearing aids every few years to take advantage of new technology and ensure they still meet your needs. Phonak offers a one-year manufacturer’s warranty on all of its hearing aids, though you should check with your retailer to find out if they offer an extended warranty (if you have bought your hearing aids privately).

Our research suggests the Phonak Audeo Lumity Life 90 is the brand’s top-end hearing aid, costing around £3,500 per pair.


We hope this article has helped you understand hearing aids better. We’ve covered the main features of hearing aids, why and how you should get a hearing test, and the process and options available to you when getting a test.

We’ve also given you an idea of which models will best suit your circumstance. Of course, you should always talk to your audiologist about which hearing aid is suitable for you; everyone’s hearing requirements are different.

Allie Anderson

Health Writer

Allie Anderson is a highly experienced health writer, and has written about a wide variety of health topics for nearly 15 years.

She has worked for the British Lung Foundation and as Editor at Today’s Pharmacist. As a freelancer writer, Allie has written for Grazia, Glamour, and Woman & Home, as well as periodicals such as British Journal of Community Nursing, Journal of Aesthetic Nursing, and Nursing Standard.

Allie is an expert in all aspects of health and healthcare and specialises in areas such as hearing aids, mental health, and social care.

Emily Woodmansey

Emily Woodmansey


Emily is a highly experienced audiologist and a founder and director of The Hearing Suite, a private hearing clinic in Yorkshire.

She has worked as an audiologist since 2011, spending three years in the NHS before moving to the private sector with Amplifon – as Audiologist and Registered Hearing Aid Dispenser (RHAD) – and at Phonak as Clinical Lead.

In September 2018, Emily founded her own private audiology practice in Harrowgate, where she employs a number of licensed audiologists and has recently opened a second clinic in Ilkley.

She also holds licenses and certifications as a Relaxation Teacher and a Living Life to the Full Practitioner.