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  • Writer's pictureDavid Engelman

Rechargeable vs Battery Operated Hearing Aids: What's the Difference?

Updated: Feb 5

Charging cables, such as what might be used for a hearing aid charger.

Nowadays, we tend to expect most electronic devices to be “rechargeable” rather than using a standard, disposable battery. Although probably somewhat “late to the game” in comparison to other devices, hearing aids are also largely available in rechargeable models, and have been so for quite a few years now. Deciding if you prefer a rechargeable or non-rechargeable hearing aid is a fairly important factor when considering hearing aids, and it is worth looking at some of the potential advantages and disadvantages between the two options.

What’s the practical difference between rechargeable and non-rechargeable hearing aids?

First, let’s look at what the differences between rechargeable and non-rechargeable hearing aids mean practically, for you, the hearing aid wearer. Non-rechargeable hearing aids will rely on a very small, button style battery to provide power to the hearing aid. The batteries are available in a range of different sizes, which will also consequently affect how quickly the battery drains. Larger hearing aid models will use a larger hearing aid battery, while smaller models will use a smaller battery. Depending on the size of the battery, and amount of hearing aid usage, a standard hearing aid battery will usually last anywhere between a few days, to a couple of weeks. The battery is stored inside a small compartment that can be opened to replace the battery. This can be done by hearing aid users themselves and does not require any specialist tools or “know-how”. Like all batteries, there is a “positive” side and a “negative” side, and it is critical that the battery is inserted into the compartment correctly.

Rechargeable hearing aids, as the name implies, rely on being placed inside a charging device to power the hearing aids up. There still is a battery inside the hearing aid, but this is powered up via the charger, rather than being replaced regularly. If you use wireless, rechargeable ear buds for listening to music, for example, the concept is pretty much the same. It is recommended to place hearing aids inside their charger on a nightly basis. Usually within a few hours of being placed inside the charger, a pair of hearing aids will be fully charged and will typically last a full waking days’ worth of use. If short on time, leaving the hearing aids in the charger even for just thirty minutes or so can provide a few hours’ worth of charge. The hearing aid chargers are usually small and compact and can plug into a wall outlet via a USB cable, like a mobile phone charger. You can also sometimes purchase special travel packs for your charger, that will provide power to your hearing aids while not plugged in. It is important that the hearing aids are placed inside the charger correctly. There will often be a picture on the charger itself to guide you on this, and your audiologist can show you the correct way to put the hearing aids into the charger as well.

Advantages of Rechargeable Hearing Aids & Disadvantages of Non-rechargeable Hearing Aids

Many people prefer rechargeable hearing aids due to their ease of use. There is no need to worry about ensuring you have enough batteries on hand to keep you going or being “caught short” by a battery that suddenly dies while you’re out and about. You simply pop your hearing aids inside the charger before going to bed, and you can generally rest assured that your hearing aids will be ready to go for the next day ahead. If you’re accustomed to using devices such as a mobile phone or tablet, which similarly rely on the use of a charger, you may well prefer rechargeable hearing aids. Furthermore, unless your audiologist supplies hearing aid batteries to you as part of your hearing aid package, this will be an additional expense that you will need to factor into the total cost of your hearing aids, if using a non-rechargeable model.

Rechargeable hearing aids can also be a great option for an individual who struggles with their manual dexterity, perhaps due to arthritis or a loss of feeling in their fingers. Hearing aid batteries are very small and can be “fiddly”, particularly if you find using your hands and fingers for things to be tricky. As the batteries are very small, if you struggle with your vision, it may be difficult as well to determine if you are replacing the battery correctly. Many people with dexterity or vision issues may find rechargeable hearing aids to be easier to handle and manage, but it is still important to ensure the hearing aids are inserted into the charger in the correct position and orientation.

There can also be a safety concern when using standard hearing aid batteries. If a battery is accidentally swallowed, this can be very dangerous and is a medical emergency. If there are young children at home, pets, or people with limited mental capacity who may be at risk of swallowing a battery, then it may be worth considering rechargeable hearing aids instead. If you do use standard hearing aid batteries and are concerned about someone possibly ingesting a battery, your audiologist may be able to have your hearing aids specially fitted with “tamper-proof” battery compartments.

Advantages of Non-rechargeable Hearing Aids & Disadvantages of Rechargeable Hearing Aids

In some ways, non-rechargeable hearing aids can be a bit more “reliable” than rechargeable ones. If a battery fails, or dies sooner than expected, you can simply replace it for a new one. However, if a problem arises with your hearing aid charger, it may need to be sent back to the manufacturer for repair, meaning you may be without the ability to charge your hearing aids for at least a few days, unless you have a spare charger. Like anything electronic, hearing aid chargers simply won’t last forever, and will likely need to be replaced for a new one at some point. The purchase of a new or spare hearing aid charger can be surprisingly expensive, often ranging in price from at least £100 to well over £200 depending on the manufacturer. Similarly, the rechargeable battery itself that sits inside the hearing aid, will usually need to be replaced by your audiologist every so often. Apart from those added expenses, rechargeable hearing aids are also usually a bit more expensive than their non-rechargeable counterparts, already from the outset.

When travelling, if you are using a non-rechargeable hearing aid and forget to bring batteries with you (or didn’t bring enough), these can usually be easily obtained all over the world, often from pharmacies, or even supermarkets. If you are using a rechargeable hearing aid and forget to bring your charger with you, you may be in a bit of trouble. You could try contacting a local audiologist to see if they have a spare charger in stock that they could sell to you, but there is no guarantee they would have the correct manufacturer or model of charger in stock (hearing aid chargers are not interchangeable between different hearing aid manufacturers and models). And regardless, this would certainly add quite a bit of unwanted stress to your trip.

A Few Final Thoughts

As can be seen, there are several different considerations to keep in mind when deciding if a rechargeable or battery-operated hearing aid is right for you. From my own experience as an audiologist, people who are pursuing hearing aids for the first time tend to prefer using rechargeable hearing aids, while people who are already accustomed to using battery-operated hearing aids often prefer to continue with this option. It is also important to note that many hearing aid styles and models are still not available in a rechargeable option. These will typically be in-the-ear (ITE) models (where the entire body of the hearing aid sits within the ear itself), especially the smaller versions of these, such as the popular “completely-in-canal” and “invisible-in-canal” hearing aids. Receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids (where most of the hearing aid sits behind the ear, with just a small wire feeding into the ear canal itself) are usually available in both rechargeable and non-rechargeable options. However, many of the newest RICs that are being released by hearing aid manufacturers have been made exclusively as rechargeable. Therefore, if either rechargeability or non-rechargeability are particularly important to you, then that will need to be factored in to determining the best type of hearing aid for you.

If you'd like to learn more about the kind of hearing care we provide for our patients at Finchley Hearing, please explore our website and feel free to get in touch with any questions.

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