Over the Counter Hearing Aids: Are You Taking a Chance?

Pharmacy drugstore blur abstract background with medicine and over the counter hearing aids on shelves

Remember when you used to be able to find those gallon buckets of ice cream at the grocery store? An entire gallon of ice cream, yum!

But you start to become more specific in your taste as you mature. You start going for the more specialized ice cream: the Turkey Hill, the Tillamook, the Ben & Jerry’s. Those smaller containers start to become more appealing.

Nevertheless, if you’re hosting a big dinner party, you’re likely to go for those generic Kemp’s ice cream buckets. There are pros and cons to each choice. In some scenarios, you will want to go for the specialized option, and in others, the generic will be the best choice.

This same mindset also pertains to hearing aids. How good are those new over-the-counter hearing aids? Well, it’s a lot like that ice cream: it depends on what your goals are.

Hearing loss can have significant affects

Your daily life can be significantly effected by hearing loss. Social solitude that frequently comes along with hearing loss can cause you to avoid having conversations because you’re unable to hear what others are saying.

Which means you wind up estranged from your friends and family. You even avoid the cashier at the supermarket. It’s not a happy way to live. And as you age, your cognitive faculties can deteriorate faster.

So not only are you missing out on conversations with your loved ones (making birthdays and holidays a lot less enjoyable, for example), but you have other health problems to worry about also!

How do over-the-counter hearing aids function?

Given the harm that hearing loss can cause, it’s easy to see the attraction of hearing aids that are simple to buy.

By their nature, over-the-counter hearing aids are made to be convenient. You simply walk into your local pharmacy and you never have to make an appointment with a hearing specialist. You’re going home right after you get and pay for these devices. They basically amplify all of the sound around you.

This can have a profoundly positive affect on your life.

In some circumstances over-the-counter hearing aids can work

Over-the-counter hearing aids began appearing on store shelves in late 2022 after the Food and Drug Administration made some changes to certain rules that allowed for their wider distribution. The thinking was that if hearing aids were more readily available, you’d end up with fewer people who had untreated hearing loss.

You’ve always had to go through somewhat of a process to acquire prescription hearing aids. And in some cases, that process can keep people away. Over-the-counter hearing aids may not be a bad option for people who just aren’t ready to make the leap. But over-the-counter hearing aids weren’t designed to replace their prescription counterparts.

But this means that some of the burden of recognizing when over-the-counter hearing aids are or aren’t the best choice lies with the consumer.

What’s the essential difference between over-the-counter and prescription hearing aids?

As a general rule, prescription hearing aids are more powerful and have a lot more personalized functions than OTC hearing aids. They will also not fit quite as well, and they won’t be personalized to your needs.

So, are over-the-counter hearing aids worthwhile at all? Well, yes, in specific cases. OTC hearing aids may be the best option if:

  • You have really simple or early-stage hearing loss. For mild cases of hearing loss, these devices will work ok.
  • You have no intention of getting your hearing checked. (You definitely should. But we also understand that some people simply never will.) An OTC hearing aid is typically better than no hearing aid at all.
  • You’ve checked with your hearing specialist, and they recommend using an OTC hearing aid. (Hopefully, your hearing specialist will even advise which style or type, and what settings will perform most optimally.)
  • You keep a pair on hand just in case your prescription hearing aids need to go in for repair.

It’s pretty common for OTC presets to be pre-programmed when you get them. If your hearing loss is in the lower wavelengths, some models will be the right choice and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other designs will be the best option. (So before you invest in a hearing aid, you should certainly get a better concept of your level and type of hearing loss.).

When OTC hearing aids aren’t a practical solution

So are there downsides to OTC hearing aids? Will you experience undesirable effects from OTC hearing aids?

Well every scenario won’t include OTC hearing aids, let’s just say. OTC hearing won’t be the best choice for you if:

  • OTC hearing aids aren’t custom fit the way you might need them to be. In some cases, you may require something with a custom fit, which is only possible with a prescription hearing aid.
  • Is the money you spent really worth it if that OTC hearing aid isn’t effective in treating your hearing loss?
  • You don’t know exactly which hearing aid to purchase: The wrong hearing aids can actually make your hearing worse for somebody with hearing loss. (It’s comparable to wearing really loud earbuds.)
  • You’re only considering OTC hearing aids because you think they cost a lot less. Well, prescription hearing aids commonly don’t cost much more than OTC hearing aids.
  • Your hearing loss has progressed to a fairly severe stage. While OTC hearing aids can be good for less significant hearing loss, profound hearing loss will require something more powerful and more refined.
  • When you’re in challenging and noisy spaces, you need to be able to hear. Depending on what surroundings you need to hear in and exactly what you’re listening to, prescription hearing aids can be personalized for those situations.

What are the risks of over-the-counter hearing aids? Generally speaking, if you aren’t a good candidate for OTC hearing aids, you could be throwing some money away or making your hearing loss worse.

Consult a hearing specialist either way

OTC hearing aids are a good fit for some individuals and prescription hearing aids are a good fit for others. Whichever decision is best for your situation, your hearing aids will work better after you get an appointment with us.

You will be able to get better treatment once you know more about your hearing loss. Whether your hearing loss requires prescription hearing aids or OTC hearing aids, we can help you get the best treatment for your situation.

We can also help you get the most out of your new technology.

Schedule an appointment with us so we can help you find out what hearing aid type is best for you.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.