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 you start to become more specific in your taste as you mature. Your ice cream tastes get more specialized and you have a tendency to opt for your favorite brand. Those little containers begin to become more appealing.

But you will still probably opt for that big bucket if you’re having a large dinner party. There are benefits and drawbacks to each choice. Generic is good in certain circumstances, but you might want more specialized ice cream in other situations.

Of course, we’re also referring to hearing aids here. Are newer over-the-counter hearing aids any good? Well, it’s a lot like that ice cream: it depends on what your plans are.

Hearing loss can have significant affects

Hearing loss can have a significant impact on your everyday activities. Social isolation that often comes along with hearing loss can cause you to avoid having conversations because you’re unable to hear what others are saying.

This can cause you to feel distant from your family and friends. When you go to the supermarket you go to self-checkout so you can avoid the cashiers. It isn’t a happy way to live. And it can cause a faster cognitive decline as you get older.

So not only are you failing to hear 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!

How do over-the-counter hearing aids work?

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

Convenience is the very backbone of the attraction of over-the-counter hearing aids. Instead of going to see a hearing specialist and getting fitted for hearing aids, you just walk into your local pharmacy. You pick up a pair of these devices, pay for them, and head home. Once they’re in your ears, they function to amplify the sound around you.

This can have a profoundly positive impact on your life.

Over-the-counter hearing aids can do the trick in some situations

In 2022 the Food and Drug Administration changed some rules about the sale of hearing aids that allowed stores including pharmacies to sell them. The idea was that if hearing aids were more conveniently available, you’d end 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 people, sadly, feel intimidated by this process so they stay away from 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 never 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 appropriate option lies with the individual.

How are OTC hearing aids different from prescription hearing aids?

Generally speaking, OTC hearing aids aren’t quite as powerful, efficient, or personalized as prescription hearing aids. They will also not fit particularly as well, and they won’t be personalized to your needs.

So is there anything helpful or positive about OTC hearing aids? Well, yes, in some situations. An OTC hearing aid might work best for you if:

  • You want a spare set to use for emergencies.
  • You have no intention of getting your hearing test. (Some individuals never will, even though they absolutely should.) An OTC hearing aid is typically better than no hearing aid at all.
  • Your hearing specialist is suggesting an OTC. (Hopefully, your hearing specialist will even recommend which style or type, and what settings will work best.)
  • You have very simple or early-stage hearing loss. These devices are great for really mild or moderate hearing loss.

Typically, OTC hearing aids are sold with certain presets already in place. Some devices are more effective for low-frequency hearing loss, others may be effective for high-frequency hearing loss. (This is why it’s good to know more about your own hearing loss before you buy any hearing aid, OTC or not).

When OTC hearing aids are not a good solution

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

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

  • Your hearing aids don’t fit well. A custom fit is sometimes necessary for some individuals and OTC hearing aids don’t allow for this.
  • You’re only thinking about OTC hearing aids because of perceived cost savings. Well, prescription hearing aids frequently don’t cost a great deal more than OTC hearing aids.
  • A cheaper hearing aid that doesn’t effectively manage your hearing loss probably isn’t worth the money you paid for it.
  • You need to hear in challenging or noisy environments. Depending on what settings you need to hear in and exactly what you’re listening to, prescription hearing aids can be personalized for those situations.
  • You don’t know exactly which hearing aid to buy: The wrong hearing aids can actually make your hearing worse for someone with hearing loss. (It’s not much different than if you crank your earbuds up to a really loud volume.)
  • You have more severe hearing loss. More profound cases of hearing loss will require a more powerful prescription hearing aid while mild cases may do fine with OTC hearing aids.

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

See a hearing specialist either way

For some people, OTC hearing aids will be fine, but for others, prescription hearing aids will be appropriate. 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. Whether your hearing loss calls for 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 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 find 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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