Practitioners Give High Marks to Open-canal Mini-BTEs on User Benefit

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What do hip-huggers, HEMI engines, and behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids have in common? Not a whole lot except that all three were trendy in the 1960s and 1970s, then fell into decline, and now, in the new millennium, are selling like those proverbial hotcakes!

They have also all come back in somewhat different forms. Chrysler's new HEMI engine, introduced in 2002, is a little smaller than that of yesteryear. The old hip-huggers have been reincarnated as “low-rise jeans.” And the BTE's return to dominance of the hearing aid market has been fueled by the appearance of smaller instruments with open-canal (OC) fittings, beginning in 2003 with the GN ReSound Air®.

Today, every manufacturer offers smaller BTEs, mostly fitted with an open canal, and often categorized under new names, such as post-auricular-canal, over-the-ear, and mini- and micro-BTEs. This new breed of products is also showing up in an amazing range of shapes and colors, as that old industry dream of stylish hearing aids is finally coming true.

The Hearing Industries Association (HIA), the main source of U.S. market sales data, recently reported that 51.45% of all hearing aids sold in 2007 were of some BTE style. However, it remains uncertain how much of the boom in BTE sales has resulted from smaller open-fit BTE hearing aids, herein referred to as OC mini-BTEs.

To find out the extent of the OC mini-BTE boom—and also what dispensers and their patients think of this product type—the 2008 Hearing Journal/AudiologyOnline (HJ/AO) survey included a special section of 10 questions for audiologists, hearing instrument specialists, and other hearing professionals about their experiences with and opinions on these devices.

The survey also included questions on many other topics, which will be reported on next month. But this Cover Story focuses on what our survey learned about OC mini-BTEs—their popularity and their perceived benefits and drawbacks. First though, here's a quick look at how the survey was conducted and who took part.