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 get those gallon buckets of ice cream at the grocery store? A whole gallon of ice cream, yum!

But as you get older, you start to get a bit more specific. Your ice cream preferences get more specialized and you tend to go for your favorite brand. Suddenly, those smaller containers are the ones that are appealing.

Nevertheless, if you’re hosting a big dinner party, you’re likely to go for those generic buckets of Kemp’s ice cream. Which means that each kind of ice cream has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Generic is good in certain circumstances, but you might want more specific ice cream in other situations.

Of course, we’re also discussing hearing aids here. How effective are those new over-the-counter hearing aids? Well, it’s much like that ice cream: it depends on what your plans are.

There can be real negative effects from hearing loss

Hearing loss can have a considerable impact on your day-to-day experiences. Social isolation that often accompanies 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 family and friends. When you go to the store you go to self-checkout so you can avoid the cashiers. It’s lonely. And as you age, your mental faculties can decline faster.

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

Over-the-counter hearing aids – how they function

It isn’t hard to understand why people would want to go towards hearing aids that can be purchased easily, given the health consequences of hearing loss.

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

This can have a profoundly positive impact on your life.

Over-the-counter hearing aids can work in some scenarios

In 2022 the Food and Drug Administration changed the rule about the distribution of hearing aids that allowed stores like pharmacies to sell them. The rule change aimed at getting hearing aids to more people who really need them for their untreated hearing loss.

You’ve always had to go through a bit of a process to acquire prescription hearing aids. And in some cases, that process can cause people to stay away. For individuals who aren’t quite ready to take the step, over-the-counter hearing aids could be a good option. But over-the-counter hearing aids were never 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 individual.

How are OTC hearing aids different than prescription hearing aids?

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

So, are over-the-counter hearing aids worthwhile at all? Well, yes, in some situations. An OTC hearing aid might work best for you if:

  • Your hearing loss is in the early phases and is really simple. These devices are great for really mild or moderate hearing loss.
  • You want a spare set in case of emergencies.
  • You’re never going to get your hearing checked. (You definitely should. But we also acknowledge that some people simply never will.) Usually, using an OTC hearing aid will be better than using nothing.
  • You’ve checked with your hearing specialist, and they suggest using an OTC hearing aid. (Hopefully, your hearing specialist will even recommend which style or type, and what settings will work best.)

Typically, OTC hearing aids are sold with certain presets already in place. If your hearing loss is in the lower wavelengths, some models will be best and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other designs will be the best option. (So before you purchase a hearing aid, you should definitely get a better concept of your level and type of hearing loss.).

When OTC hearing aids aren’t a good fit

So, what are the disadvantages of over-the-counter hearing aids? Will you experience unwanted effects from OTC hearing aids?

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

  • You don’t know exactly which hearing aid to purchase: For some people who have hearing loss, the wrong hearing aids can actually harm their ears. (It’s comparable to using really loud earbuds.)
  • You’re only thinking about OTC hearing aids because you think they cost a lot less. OTC hearing aids are usually nearly as costly as their prescription-only alternative.
  • You have more profound hearing loss. While OTC hearing aids can be good for mild and moderate hearing loss, severe hearing loss will need something more powerful and more refined.
  • You need to hear in challenging or noisy settings. Depending on what settings you need to hear in and precisely what you’re listening to, prescription hearing aids can be personalized for those situations.
  • Your hearing aids don’t fit well. A custom fit is frequently necessary for some individuals and OTC hearing aids don’t allow this.
  • Is the money you spent really worth it if that OTC hearing aid isn’t effective in treating your hearing loss?

Are there any risks that come with OTC hearing aids? In general, if you aren’t a good fit for OTC hearing aids, you could be wasting some money or making your hearing loss worse.

Either way, you should consult a hearing specialist

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

You will be able to get better treatment once you understand more about your hearing loss. We can help guide you toward the best hearing aid for your situation, whether it’s OTC or prescription.

Similarly, we can help you better adapt to a new set of hearing aids, and get the most out of the technology.

If you believe you have hearing loss and want to see if OTC hearing aids are the right choice 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.