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

Do you recall those gallon buckets of ice cream you used to find at grocery stores? A whole gallon of ice cream, yum!

But you start to become more particular in your taste as you get older. You begin going for the more specialized ice cream: the Turkey Hill, the Tillamook, the Ben & Jerry’s. Those little containers start to become more appealing.

But you will still probably go for that big bucket if you’re having a large dinner party. There are pros and cons to each choice. In some scenarios, you will want to go with the specialized selection, and in others, the generic will be a better solution.

This same mentality also applies to hearing aids. Are newer over-the-counter hearing aids any good? Well, much like our ice cream illustration, it depends on what you want to do.

There can be significant negative effects from hearing loss

Your daily life can be seriously effected by hearing loss. When you have neglected hearing loss, you can experience social solitude, it’s more difficult to have even basic conversations, so you steer clear of situations where you encounter other individuals who may want to speak with you.

Which means you wind up estranged from your family and friends. When you go to the store you go to self-checkout so you can avoid the cashiers. It isn’t a happy way to live. And as you age, your mental 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 instance), but you have other health problems to worry about too!

Over-the-counter hearing aids – how they work

Given the harm that hearing loss can lead to, it’s easy to recognize the attraction of hearing aids that are easy to purchase.

Convenience is the very backbone of the appeal of over-the-counter hearing aids. Instead of going to see a hearing specialist and getting fitted for hearing aids, you just stroll into your local pharmacy. You’re on your way home right after you pick up and pay for these devices. Once they’re in your ears, they work to amplify 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 started to appear in stores around late 2022 after the Food and Drug Administration made some rule changes that allowed for their broader distribution. The idea was that if hearing aids were more conveniently available, you’d wind up with fewer people who had neglected hearing loss.

You’ve always had to go through a bit of a process to acquire prescription hearing aids. Many individuals, unfortunately, feel intimidated by this process so they avoid it. For people who aren’t quite ready to take the step, over-the-counter hearing aids can be a good option. But prescription hearing aids were not meant to be replaced by over-the-counter models.

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 much more personalized features than OTC hearing aids. They will also not fit quite as well, and they won’t be customized to your needs.

So is there anything useful or positive about OTC hearing aids? There actually can be some advantages to an OTC in specific circumstances. An OTC hearing aid may work best for you if:

  • You’re never going to get your hearing checked. (You definitely should. But we also recognize that some individuals simply never will.) Usually, using an OTC hearing aid will be better than using no hearing aid.
  • You want a spare set to use for emergencies.
  • You have really simple or early-stage hearing loss. These devices are good for really mild or moderate hearing loss.
  • Your hearing specialist is suggesting an OTC. (For best outcomes, ask your hearing specialist to go over settings and style types that may work best for you.)

Usually, OTC hearing aids are sold with certain presets already in place. If your hearing loss is in the lower frequencies, some models will be best and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other models will be the best choice. (This is why it’s good to understand more about your own hearing loss before you purchase any hearing aid, OTC or not).

OTC hearing aids are frequently not the ideal choice

So are there negative aspects to OTC hearing aids? Are there side effects of over-the-counter hearing aids?

Well every scenario won’t include OTC hearing aids, let’s just say. Generally, OTC hearing aids may not be the right solution for you if:

  • Your hearing loss has advanced to a fairly profound stage. While OTC hearing aids can be helpful for mild and moderate hearing loss, severe hearing loss will require something more powerful and more refined.
  • Your hearing aids don’t fit well. A custom fit is sometimes necessary for some people and OTC hearing aids don’t allow this.
  • You’re only interested in OTC hearing aids because you think they cost a lot less. OTC hearing aids are often almost as expensive as their prescription-only alternative.
  • Exactly which hearing aid to invest in is still unknown to you: The wrong hearing aids can actually make your hearing worse for someone with hearing loss. (It’s not much different than if you turn your earbuds up to a really loud volume.)
  • When you’re in complex and noisy settings, you need to be able to hear. Depending on what settings you need to hear in and precisely what you’re listening to, prescription hearing aids can be customized for those situations.
  • Is the money you paid really worth it if that OTC hearing aid is that much lower in power?

What are the dangers of over-the-counter hearing aids? You could be wasting good money and doing more damage to your ears by using OTC hearing aids if they’re not the best solution for your specific hearing loss.

Either way, you should consult a hearing specialist

For some people, OTC hearing aids will be okay, but for others, prescription hearing aids will be appropriate. Whichever option is best for your situation, your hearing aids will work better after you have an appointment with us.

You will be able to get better treatment when you know more about your hearing loss. Whether your hearing loss calls for 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.

If you believe you have hearing loss and want to find out if OTC hearing aids are right for you, schedule an appointment with us today.

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.


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