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

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? A whole gallon of ice cream, yum!

But you begin 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 smaller containers begin to become more appealing.

Nevertheless, if you’re hosting a large dinner party, you’re likely to spring for those generic Kemp’s ice cream buckets. There are benefits and drawbacks to each choice. Generic is good in certain circumstances, but you might want more specific ice cream in other circumstances.

This same mindset also pertains to hearing aids. Are newer over-the-counter hearing aids worthwhile? Well, it’s much like that ice cream: it depends on what your goals are.

There can be significant detrimental effects from hearing loss

Your daily life can be significantly effected by hearing loss. Social isolation that frequently accompanies hearing loss can cause you to avoid having conversations because you’re unable to hear what people are saying.

This can cause you to feel removed from your family and friends. When you go to the supermarket you use self-checkout so you can steer clear of the cashiers. It’s lonely. And as you get older, your cognitive faculties can decline faster.

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

Over-the-counter hearing aids – how they function

It’s not difficult to understand why people would want to move towards hearing aids that can be purchased easily, given the health consequences of hearing loss.

Convenience is the very nature of the appeal of over-the-counter hearing aids. Instead of going to consult a hearing specialist and getting fitted for hearing aids, you just walk into your local pharmacy. You’re going home right after you get and pay for these devices. Once they’re in your ears, they work to amplify the sound around you.

Your life can be profoundly and positively influenced by this.

In some situations 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 changes to certain rules that allowed for their wider distribution. The rule change focused on getting hearing aids to more people who really need them for their untreated hearing loss.

It’s never been difficult to obtain a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. And sometimes, that process can cause people to stay away. For individuals who aren’t quite ready to make that leap, over-the-counter hearing aids could be a good alternative. But over-the-counter hearing aids were not manufactured to take the place of their prescription counterparts.

But this means that some of the burden of recognizing when over-the-counter hearing aids are or aren’t the appropriate 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 personalized functions 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? Well, yes, in specific circumstances. OTC hearing aids might be the best choice if:

  • You’re never going to get your hearing checked. (Some individuals never will, even though they absolutely should.) An OTC hearing aid is typically better than no hearing aid at all.
  • You keep a set on hand just in case your prescription hearing aids need to go in for maintenance.
  • Your hearing loss is in the early stages and is very simple. For mild instances of hearing loss, these devices will work ok.
  • You’ve consulted your hearing specialist, and they recommend 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 specific presets already in place. Some devices are good for low-frequency hearing loss, others might be effective for high-frequency hearing loss. (So before you invest in a hearing aid, you should certainly get a better concept of your level and type of hearing loss.).

OTC hearing aids are frequently not the right option

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

Well, let’s just say that OTC hearing aids aren’t a great fit for everyone in every circumstance. In general, OTC hearing aids may not be the right solution for you if:

  • When you’re in complex and noisy settings, you need to be able to hear. Depending on what surroundings 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 spent really worth it if that OTC hearing aid isn’t effective in treating your hearing loss?
  • Your hearing loss has advanced to a fairly profound stage. More profound cases of hearing loss will require a more powerful prescription hearing aid while minor cases may do fine with OTC hearing aids.
  • You’re only considering OTC hearing aids because you think they cost a lot less. Well, prescription hearing aids often don’t cost a great deal more than OTC hearing aids.
  • You don’t know exactly which hearing aid to buy: The wrong hearing aids can actually make your hearing worse for someone who has hearing loss. (It’s comparable to using really loud earbuds.)
  • OTC hearing aids are not custom fit the way you might need them to be. A custom fit is frequently necessary for some individuals and OTC hearing aids don’t allow this.

What are the dangers 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.

Either way, you should consult a hearing specialist

OTC hearing aids are a good fit for some people and prescription hearing aids are the best choice for others. But either way, making an appointment can help your hearing aids work better.

You will be capable of getting better treatment when 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.

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

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