Hearing aids

Today’s NHS hearing aids are slimmer, lighter and smaller than ever before. And they come in funky colours, too.

It’s estimated that there are 4 million people with hearing loss in the UK who could benefit from wearing a hearing aid but who don’t wear one.

According to Action on Hearing Loss audiology specialist, Crystal Rolfe, many people are put off by the idea of wearing hearing aids because they think they are unsightly and that they will make them look old and disabled.

"There’s still a stigma surrounding hearing aids, but it’s out of date. Modern hearing aids are a great improvement on those that were available even a couple of decades ago.

"Today’s digital hearing aids work better than the older analogue ones, and they’re much smaller and neater than they used to be. We need a new attitude to hearing aids. Wearing them should be as unremarkable as wearing glasses," she says.

The benefits

A hearing aid works by enhancing your existing hearing to make sounds louder and clearer (although it rarely restores hearing to normal). As long as you have some level of hearing, you should hear better with a hearing aid.

According to a Deafness Research UK survey, people who use hearing aids are generally very satisfied with them. Over half of those questioned described being fitted with a hearing aid as "a relief" and most of them felt their lives had improved because they "felt more involved".

What’s on offer

There are different types of hearing aid offering different advantages, depending on size, levels of amplification and design. They are all battery operated and the main types are ‘in the ear’ (which sit in the outer ear), ‘behind the ear’ and ‘in the canal’ (which sit in the ear canal).

Some hearing aids are digital and some are analogue. Some analogue hearing aids can be digitally programmed. Deafness Research UK explains the differences between digital and analogue hearing aids.

Read more about the different types of hearing aid.

NHS or private?

You can get hearing aids free of charge on the NHS or you can choose to buy them privately. 

It's likely that you'll have a wider choice of aids if you buy them privately. But make sure you're not steered towards one or two particular models, as it may be that there are cheaper models that will suit your needs just as well.

The NHS buys a range of hearing aids and uses its bulk-buying power to get good-quality digital hearing aids at low prices from hearing aid manufacturers. The audiology departments provide these aids free of charge on long-term loan to NHS patients.

According to Crystal Rolfe, most people will find that the NHS has the type of hearing aid they want.

“The NHS has high-quality digital hearing aids up to the top of the mid-range. For most situations, they perform very well and the waiting time to get one is short," she says.

The latest data shows the average waiting time between referral and treatment (which usually results in being given a hearing aid) to be around four or five weeks on the NHS.

Read more about how to get a hearing aid through the NHS.

Your hearing aid fitting

Your hearing aid will be chosen according to your level of hearing loss. The audiology staff will programme it with the computer to suit your needs. They will show you how to use the hearing aid and discuss looking after it with you.

Hearing aids provided by the NHS usually fit behind the ear. They have an earmould that connects to the hearing aid and fits in your ear. However, open-fitting hearing aids are now also fitted routinely on the NHS, which can be less visible than earmoulds and can give you a more natural sound, but they are only suitable if your hearing loss is mild or moderate.

You should have an appointment about eight to 12 weeks after your hearing aid is fitted so you can ask questions and sort out any problems. The staff will check how helpful you have found your hearing aid in different situations and may make adjustments to the earmould or hearing aid.

Hearing aids as fashion

Crystal says that people may be surprised by the range and cutting-edge design of the hearing aids available on the NHS. “Not only are modern digital hearing aids widely available on the NHS, the health service is also starting to provide the latest tiny ‘in-the-ear’ devices."

Even brightly coloured models are available on the NHS for people who want to make a feature of their hearing aid.

“When you have your fitting for an NHS hearing aid, you’ll normally be shown the standard selection of beige and brown ones in the cabinet. These are designed to blend in with your skin tone and look discreet. But if you want to make a feature of your hearing aid, just ask, as there’s often a wider choice of colours available, such as silver. If the clinic doesn’t have the colour you want in stock, it can be ordered for you,” says Rolfe.

There is also jewellery available designed to beautify hearing aids, known as the ‘Hearrings’ collection. Created by an audiologist, these are ornate pieces designed to fit into the ear and mask the hearing aid.

Hearing aid support

Action on Hearing Loss: Hearing aid support consists of community-based projects across the UK where trained volunteers, many of whom have hearing loss themselves, show people how to get the best performance from their NHS hearing aids. The volunteers help people to carry out basic maintenance on their hearing aid, such as replacing tubing and batteries, as well as giving advice on equipment that can make life easier in the workplace and at home.

Find hearing impairment services in your area.

Page last reviewed: 14/01/2013

Next review due: 14/01/2015


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The 23 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Grow up said on 18 April 2014

What a load of miserable old people you are!

You (and I) get free aids and batteries but something is not perfect and it's somebody else's fault. If your ear bleeds go back. If they can't cure that go further up the chain of command.

If you're a musician and need the aids for work claim it as an expense if you're self employed; quite possibly you contributed to the loss of hearing by standing too close to the speakers.

Grow up the lot of you and look after yourself instead of waiting for someone to deal with everything for you.

I have hearing aids, they're not perfect, I don't wear them when I don't have to as few people say anything worth listening to. They certainly rarely write anything worth reading that's for sure.

I got tested, I received the aids, I don't like them but it's better than not being able to do my job as I cannot train people in a large room and hear what the course attendees say.

One broke and I was seen immediately by the centre and it was fixed.

Possibly private hearing aids are superior and I have the money but maybe they are not and I can get by on what I have for free. If free isn't good enough for you or the colour or lack of it is such a huge burden that it blights your life go private and give the NHS (and me) a break from your whining.

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BCB101 said on 19 March 2014

Over the past 15 years I have tried 2 pairs of NHS hearing aids and they have been useless. They not only looked bad but whistled and were not responsive. I have worn a hearing aid since 1983 and I am on my 4th private hearing aids. Like all aids they need careful programming but are superior to NHS. I am always amazed that people will spend £2000 on a cruise yet they are reluctant to spend the same money on 2 good private hearing aids which would improve their quality of life.All the big makes are highly competitive and the technology is changing all the time..

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CallumSt said on 14 March 2014

I'm 42 years old and had an NHS hearing aid fitted last year. I have mild to moderate hearing loss and my right ear is much worse than my left.

It took me nearly 30 years to pluck up the courage to ask my doctor about my hearing as I thought it wasn't important and just me that couldn't hear things and that was normal.

Because of my age, if I had been at school now, I am told that they would have picked up on my genetic hearing loss and I would have been bale to participate in life much more fully than what I had been able to.

I really like my NHS hearing aid (it's a Siemens Impact Pro). It has helped me hear things I didn't know were there before. It has made hearing people much more easy, and enabled me to participate in conversations that I would previously not been able to.

It's not made my hearing perfect, nothing can make that happen at the moment, but my hearing aid has become an integral part of me. It really has been marvelous to experience all these new noises and sounds. Speech is very crisp and depending on the environment I'm in, I can use the different settings to adjust the hearing aid thus.

I'm sorry that other users are focusing on the negative aspects of their hearing aids. I suppose because I never had one before I've got nothing to compare it to.

It is definitely worth mentioning to your doctor that you have worries about your hearing. They can refer you to the audiology department and they can assess you and get you sorted. It worked for me, and I've been so much more confident with my hearing aid than I thought I would be because I can hear what people are saying, and so respond properly, rather than just guess at an answer and often get it totally wrong.

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GrumpyFromLincs said on 11 March 2014

My husband who is 65 has to wear a hearing aid and is currently wearing an NHS version which is unsightly, very very uncomfortable and makes his ear bleed. Having visited your website to seek out alternative NHS hearing aids that would be more comfortable, there aren't any on offer. As usual the NHS have not met with my expectations. How on earth you think you can promote this website page as "Live Well" when it's a complete lie is beyond me. Why do you think anyone in their right mind would want to wear something that was painful and made them bleed I will never know. He has returned to the clinic twice to have a refit but still the same issue occurs. He has been forced into a situation where he has had to spend £1700 of savings to pay for an in-ear, digital version that is less unsightly and far far more comfortable. How dare you put the elderly through this shame and discomfort, you are a disgrace!

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tillymint11 said on 04 March 2014

I've found this article both accurate and informative.
I only started using a hearing aid in January. I found the staff very helpful - they even allowed me to choose its colour - I chose a black one. I think the choice may depend on where you live, but it still might be worth asking.

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User845948 said on 15 February 2014

My father went to see his GP last week. The doctor explained that you need to be on Income support in order to get the FREE hearing aids for free.

Is this true? I suspect it isnt because this article doesnt mention it anywhere!

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craigj1986 said on 22 January 2014

I have worn NHS hearing aids for little over 7 years now at first I never had a choice. in November 2013 my right hearing aid started to fail I was assessed for new ones and new moulds etc were taken I was offered a choice of colour hearing aids I wanted (very basic though) and I was given a choice of colour for my hearing mould. now finally after several visits and phone calls off my carers I am finally getting fitted tomorrow jan 2014 and I was deemed a urgent case for new hearing aids!!! overall fairly satisfied with the NHS hearing aids and improvements just not very impressed with the waiting times!!

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jancar said on 10 December 2013

I'm writing this on behalf of my brother-in-law who has a NHS hearing aid. He said that the batteries he is given at his local hospital only last about 4 days and so he seems to always going back there to renew them. Either they are not being recharged properly or they are very cheap batteries. It is normally the elderly who develop hearing problems, he is in his late 70s with a lot of health problems so it would be nice for him if he didn't have to keep traipsing back and forth to the hospital.

Any helpful comments appreciated.

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djchur said on 02 November 2013

This article is misleading. I've worn hearing aids for forty two years and would really love a coloured one, being thoroughly sick of boring beige. However, not once in all that time have I ever been offered either coloured hearing aids or ear moulds. Your article leads us to believe that coloured aids etc. are just there for the asking, this simply is not true. Coloured aids are available in some areas only, so why don't you just say so.

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Jmgarner00 said on 18 October 2013

Im 27 and completely deaf in my right ear due to a dead nerve so have never been able to have a hearing aid. Now there is hearing aid technology meaning I can have one I went to my doctors about 4 months ago to be referred to ENT and still haven't heard anything. Is there a way of chasing this up without going to my doctors and having more letters sent?. Just want my appointment now and getting annoyed.

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angerytoe said on 03 April 2013

So digital hearing aids are better are they? Is that just coz they happen to be digital so it has to be better?
the truth is, NHS audiology offers no choice now its digital and that's all they will offer.
I am someone who has used analogue hearing aids for over 30 years, I was not born deaf so I know what I should be hearing, analogue hearing aids give an accurate representation of the surroundings, OK they amplify everything, and are not perfect, but everything is what i want to hear.
I don't want a hearing aid that dictates what I can and cannot hear which is what digital hearing aids do.
I don't want compressors and limiters taking sounds away that I need to hear, and all i get told by the audiology is that its something that I will have to get used to.
How many audiologists and management who made the decision to remove analogue hearing aids from the NHS supply chain actually have experience of needing to wear such devices?
Why should I have to get used to an alien sound which i know is not an accurate representation of my surroundings?

In the past 30 years, I have become a multi instrument musician and a sound and lighting technician, and i can tell you now that there is no way that I can carry on doing what I have done for most of my life. so thank you very much NHS and the RNID for now making me disabled, as I never thought of myself in this way before.

The audiology in Liverpool has told me that it is impossible to get analogue hearing aids any more. maybe for your supply chain but i know of 3 companies in the UK that does, and I know of 1 manufacturer. Am I supposed to go private now am I? I wish I had the money to go private.

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Obucket said on 24 March 2013

#1 and #3 - 'Session timeout'.
#2 - Accidentally duplicated - BOTH rejected.
#4 - Here we go...

The article may be accurate for some hearing centres but it is hopelessly misleading for others. Reading it leaves me unnecessarily disappointed through no real fault of my local hearing centre.

I was assessed as suitable for a hearing aid by an ENT consultant so I didn't have to have an initial assessment (waiting time 6-8 weeks, second assessments are 5 weeks). My first appointment was to have a mould taken. Waiting time said to be 6-8 weeks but it was 3- 4 months for me. I was also given another hearing assessment to confirm the earlier one (seven months previously). I was told the hearing aid would be behind my ear (hardly a surprise given the appointment was for a mould and I'd had gunk in my ear for several minutes), and that was the sum total of the discussion about what I would be getting.Told the fitting would be ~6 weeks (they quote 6-8) but it was 10.

The fitting took 15 minutes and didn't seem particularly hurried (until I got home and read the booklet they supplied that told me they take 45-60 minutes - I know it will vary with each patient but if it can take as little as 15 they should say so). Far from there being any suggestion of a selection of models there wasn't even a choice of colour. Indeed the hearing aid was already sitting on the table connected to the computer and had come out of a box with my name already written on it. The one thing I didn't want was a beige hearing aid but that is what I got. Not the really light beige but an equally unpleasant darker shade.

Early days with the aid so no real comment about that.

So for me the '5 weeks' was 5-6 months, plus 4-5 months to get an ENT appointment (it took four years to get a referral), and the 3-4 months for my GP to receive the write up so she could refer to the hearing centre. There was no choice at the end of it.

So be aware your mileage may vary...

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Bea Flynn said on 28 January 2013

I have been wearing a hearing aid for 5 years, and recently went for a NHS one. I was not offered a choice . The one I have been given is very large compared to my private one. The quality of sound is screeching, even though I have had 2 adjustments.

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Brian CB said on 19 November 2012

I agree with the last comments. I have had 2 sets of NHS hearing aids 2003 and 2012 and have found them to be very poor quality and next to being useless. I have also had private hearing aids since 1983 starting off with 1 in 1983. I have just bought an RIC with the small speaker being in the ear. No whistles or crackles and extremely good sound. If one is looking at quality of life then it has to be private aids which certainly worth the money. It is mid range and cost £1300. With all the different programs and filters it is well worth the money.
I can alter the direction microphones whilst in a restaurant and in noisy situation such as hoovering the sound filter comes on.All the big makes are currently very good .

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atrier said on 11 October 2012

I strongly feel that (a) patients should not expect their hearing to be restored to completely normal and (b) they must persevere with the aids prescribed. The brain adjusts accordingly. Two aids make more sense than one as we have two ears as well as two eyes. Most people are loath to acknowledge they are hard of hearing so using hearing aids is another function most people are not happy to do. We do, after all, have two eyes and would not dream of having one lens in our spectacles unless one eye was totally normal and did not require correction. The stigma attached to hearing loss is also a big factor. When con sidering aids, talk at length to your audiologist before committing to private or NHS aids - after all, he does not know your concerns until you tell him!

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michaelcharlesdavid said on 30 August 2012

I have been given two different NHS hearing aids over the last four years, neither was particularly effective. I then decided to go private; I had two hearing tests and was sold a dream by two separate high street providers. I selected one and took the plunge; I bought two top of the range hearing aids, one for each ear. What a disappointment, the sounds were great in the quiet consulting room but once in the real world I could hear all the noise I didn’t want to hear and very little of the sounds I did. Think very carefully before parting with your money, as I have found, the NHS aids are much the same as those bought privately.

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michaelcharlesdavid said on 27 August 2012

I have been given two different NHS hearing aids over the last four years, neither was particularly effective. I then decided to go private; I had two hearing tests and was sold a dream by two separate high street providers. I selected one and took the plunge; I bought two top of the range hearing aids, one for each ear. What a disappointment, the sounds were great in the quiet consulting room but once in the real world I could hear all the noise I didn’t want to hear and very little of the sounds I did. Think very carefully before parting with your money, as I have found, the NHS aids are much the same as those bought privately.

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Diippydo said on 20 August 2012

A few years ago I was supplied with an NHS hearing aid. It was fine at first, but the right one kept falling out, so I do not wear them any more.
I tried private, they were fantastic, but too expensive for me.

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lisandy said on 18 March 2012

I was luckily enough to get in ear aids but couldnt cope, so Audioligist put in a request for me to get didital in ear aids ( normally only children were getting them), but i found them too loud & as they didnt have a volume control it had to be done by the Audioligist on a computer.
I was told they couldnt turn them down any more & i had to get used to it as it was just because id lived in a quiet world for so long.
Well i couldnt get used to it & got headaches & earaches so stoped wearing them.
Ive now come to a point in my life where i feel ready to try again, but im going to look into private retailers.

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Thehearingaid said on 26 February 2012

It’s gratifying to see that your article confirms my viewpoint. I couldn’t have said this better myself. You’ve really gone above and beyond with this article. Thank you very much.


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TallulahA said on 08 February 2012

Sometimes hearing aids do not meet a person's needs. If you are still struggling to hear things like the television or use your telephone and you have discussed this with the audiology clinic, you are entitled to an assessment from your local authority. They may supply equipment such as a loop system for your home or equipment that flashes to alert you to the doorbell or telephone. If they do not supply the equipment, they will be able to assess and advise on equipment and techniques to improve your quality of life. There is no charge for assessments or equipment provided by your council.

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jjfm said on 27 January 2012

Love the idea of colourful hearing aids - nobody likes the boring beige! And I have yet to meet anyone with beige skin! However at my recent hearing test I was presented with new hearing aids, and yes they were good old beige. When I asked about some snazzy silver ones, (would match my silver hair!) I was advised that - contrary to the advice given on this website - 'coloured aids are not available - too expensive' But if I lived only 20 miles away and under the care of a different hospital, the silver ones would have been freely available on the NHS!! Can anyone explain why this is?

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ZCT said on 30 October 2011

I am a licensed hearing professional, RHAD in England, and now I live in the US where I have a similar license. I have been fitting hearing aids since 1994.

I strongly disagree with the sentiment published that top of the line hearing aids provide "little extra benefit." There is a reason why so many are sold, and a reason why there has been a thriving private sector for decades.

Modern top of the line hearing aids have (for example) the most advance speech in noise processing in the world, providing excellent help in social situations such as going to a restaurant or a pub. So to make the argument that such devices are very expensive and bring little to the table is misleading, and could potentially deprive someone from investigating how much better they could hear.

It's certainly great that the NHS now offers better choice. Back in the 90s they were forcing people to have ugly large BTE hearing aids in only one ear, so clearly they have come a long way. But let's not pour scorn on the other options that are out there.

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