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 supermarket? An entire gallon of ice cream, yum!

But as you grow up, you start to get a little more particular. Your ice cream tastes get more specialized and you have a tendency to opt for your favorite brand. Those smaller containers begin to become more enticing.

Nevertheless, if you’re hosting a large dinner party, you’re likely to go for those generic Kemp’s ice cream buckets. Which means that every type of ice cream has its own unique strengths and drawbacks. In some circumstances, you will want to go with the specialized option, and in others, the generic will be a better solution.

This same mentality also applies to hearing aids. Are new over-the-counter hearing aids any good? Well, much like our ice cream example, it depends on what your goals are.

There can be significant negative effects from hearing loss

Your daily life can be significantly effected by hearing loss. Social solitude that frequently accompanies hearing loss can cause you to avoid having conversations because you can’t hear what people are saying.

This can make you feel distant from your family and friends. You even avoid the cashier at the supermarket. It’s not a happy way to live. And it can cause a faster mental decline as you get older.

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

Over-the-counter hearing aids – how they function

It’s not hard to understand why individuals would want to go towards hearing aids that can be bought easily, given the health consequences of hearing loss.

By their nature, over-the-counter hearing aids are designed to be convenient. Instead of going to consult a hearing specialist and getting fitted for hearing aids, you just stroll into your local pharmacy. You grab a pair of these devices, pay for them, and go home. Once you put them in, they work to boost 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 rule changes that allowed for their broader distribution. The idea was that if hearing aids were more easily available, you’d wind up with fewer people who had neglected hearing loss.

It’s never been difficult to get a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. Many individuals, sadly, feel intimidated by this process so they avoid it. Over-the-counter hearing aids may not be a bad choice for people who just aren’t ready to make the leap. But prescription hearing aids were not meant to be replaced by over-the-counter models.

But this means that some of the burden of understanding when over-the-counter hearing aids are or aren’t the appropriate option lies with the consumer.

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

Generally speaking, OTC hearing aids are not quite as powerful, capable, or personalized as prescription hearing aids. They won’t be personalized to your particular requirements and they won’t fit as well.

So, are over-the-counter hearing aids any good at all? Well, yes, in certain circumstances. OTC hearing aids may be the best choice if:

  • You’re never going to get your hearing checked. (You definitely should. But we also understand that some individuals just never will.) Usually, using an OTC hearing aid will be better than using no hearing aid.
  • You have very simple or early-stage hearing loss. For mild instances of hearing loss, these devices will work ok.
  • Your hearing specialist is suggesting an OTC. (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.

Typically, OTC hearing aids are sold with specific presets already programmed in. Some types are good for low-frequency hearing loss, others might be good for high-frequency hearing loss. (So before you invest in a hearing aid, you should definitely get a better idea of your level and type of hearing loss.).

OTC hearing aids are often not the right option

So, what are the drawbacks to over-the-counter hearing aids? Will you encounter unwanted effects from OTC hearing aids?

Well, let’s just say that OTC hearing aids aren’t a great fit for everyone in every situation. OTC hearing won’t be the best option for you if:

  • OTC hearing aids are not custom fit the way you might need them to be. A custom fit is sometimes necessary for some people and OTC hearing aids don’t allow this.
  • You need to hear in challenging or noisy settings. Depending on what surroundings you need to hear in and exactly what you’re listening to, prescription hearing aids can be customized for those situations.
  • Exactly which hearing aid to purchase is still unknown to you: The wrong hearing aids can actually make your hearing worse for someone who has hearing loss. (It’s comparable to wearing really loud earbuds.)
  • A cheaper hearing aid that doesn’t effectively manage your hearing loss most likely isn’t worth the money you paid for it.
  • You’re only interested in OTC hearing aids because of perceived cost savings. Well, prescription hearing aids often don’t cost a great deal more than OTC hearing aids.
  • Your hearing loss has advanced to a fairly severe stage. More profound cases of hearing loss will call for a more powerful prescription hearing aid while minor cases may do fine with OTC hearing aids.

What are the risks of over-the-counter hearing aids? Generally speaking, if you aren’t a good fit 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 suitable for some individuals and prescription hearing aids are the best choice for others. But either way, scheduling an appointment can help your hearing aids work better.

That’s because learning more about your hearing loss will help you find a better treatment. Whether your hearing loss requires prescription hearing aids or OTC hearing aids, we can help you get the best treatment for your circumstance.

In the same way, we can help you better adjust to a new set of hearing aids, and get the most out of the technology.

Schedule an appointment with us so we can help you determine 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.