There’s been a lot of chatter among hearing care professionals about over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids and how they might benefit, or harm, a person’s hearing.
Let me differentiate them from regular hearing aids for you:
- When I say, “over the counter,” I mean that you can buy them in a retail store or online without a prescription. They are also called nonprescription hearing aids.
- When I say, “prescription hearing aids,” I am referring to hearing aids that are prescribed, fitted, and programed to match your exact hearing needs.
There’s a need to add the word “prescription” now because in October 2021, the FDA released the rules for selling hearing aids without the care of a hearing specialist.
While we love the idea of making hearing aids more affordable, thereby meaning that more people might treat a hearing loss, we have some concerns, which I’ll go into below.
Prescription Vs. Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids
The biggest difference between prescription hearing aids and over-the-counter hearing aids is that one is customized for your exact hearing needs – through a hearing test – and the other is generic.
It’s very similar to buying glasses that are prescribed by an optometrist for your exact eyesight needs vs. buying generic glasses at a store.
The first step to treating a hearing loss should always be a professional hearing evaluation. How else will you know your hearing needs?
A professional hearing test measures for tone, volume, pitch, and word recognition. All an online hearing test will measure is volume.
Can OTC Hearing Aids Be Helpful?
Over-the counter hearing aids, store-bought hearing aids, nonprescription hearing aids … there are many terms that can be used for hearing aids that bypass the requirement of a prescription. But who are these hearing aids good for?
Over-the counter hearing aids:
- Can help adults with mild to moderate hearing loss
- Offer some help in certain situations, such as when there is additional background noise
- Do not require a hearing test before purchase
- Are a one-size-fits-all hearing device
- They are not a legal option for children.
- If they don’t have volume limiters, they can damage your hearing if the amplification is set too high.
- They usually don’t fit comfortably enough to wear all day.
- Stores don’t offer a long-term maintenance and repair service.
- If there is a warranty, it’s usually not worth much.
Prescription hearing aids:
- Help people with any degree of hearing loss
- Require a professional hearing test before purchase
- Are the only legal option for children as by law, children cannot be treated with nonprescription hearing aids
- Are custom fit and programed for each user – only the hearing frequencies that need to be are amplified
- Come with many extra options and features
- Can be worn comfortably all day
- Are recommended based on your lifestyle, hearing needs, budget, and personal preferences
- They come with the maintenance package of your choice, and we clean, repair, or adjust your device onsite.
- If your hearing aids need to be sent to the manufacturer for a bigger repair, we’ll lend you a device similar to yours while you wait.
Prescription hearing aids are fit, programed, and adjusted according to the results of your hearing evaluation so that every weaker aspect of your hearing is treated and strengthened, and communication becomes easy.
Can I Buy a Hearing Aid without Consulting a Hearing Specialist?
Yes, you can buy hearing aids from any store you wish, but the entire process is on you and you might end up with hearing aids that you had no need for because your hearing loss was due to earwax buildup.
We look for those kinds of things when you have your hearing evaluation and, if needed, we clean out earwax too! I doubt you’ll find any store offering that.
We value your hearing health, which is why we offer the services we do.
While we can see the benefit of buying an over-the-counter hearing aid to help you hear better in certain scenarios, we don’t believe that a generic hearing aid can treat your precise hearing needs adequately.
If you’re still leaning toward buying a nonprescription hearing aid because of the cost, know that we have many resources to help you make prescription hearing aids affordable.
- Inland Hearing has an insurance specialist who can check your plan for you.
- We work with brand name manufacturers such as ReSound, Unitron, Widex, Phonak, Signia, Oticon, and more, so there are lots of styles, features, and price points to choose from.
If you think you, or a loved one, have a hearing loss, book a hearing assessment at one of our locations. We’ll give you the results immediately and tell you about the many options we offer for treating your hearing loss.
If you would prefer to have some questions answered first about OTC devices vs. prescription hearing aids, call us! When it comes to your hearing health, we’re always happy to help.