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 bit more particular. Your ice cream tastes become more specialized and you have a tendency to opt for your favorite brand. All of a sudden, those littler containers are the ones that are enticing.

Still, if you’re hosting a large dinner party, you’re likely to spring for those generic Kemp’s ice cream buckets. There are pros and cons to each choice. In some circumstances, you will want to go for the specialized selection, and in others, the generic will be the best choice.

Of course, we’re also discussing hearing aids here. How good are those new over-the-counter hearing aids? Well, much like our ice cream illustration, it depends on what your goals are.

Hearing loss can have significant impacts

Your daily life can be seriously impacted by hearing loss. When you have neglected hearing loss, you can encounter social solitude, it’s more difficult to have even simple conversations, so you steer clear of situations where you confront other individuals who might want to talk to you.

This can make you feel removed from your friends and family. You even avoid the cashier at the grocery store. It isn’t a happy way to live. And as you age, your cognitive faculties can deteriorate faster.

So it isn’t simply that you’re unable to hear what your family and friends are saying, but you could also be enhancing your chances of other potentially severe health problems.

How do over-the-counter hearing aids work?

Given the harm that hearing loss can cause, it’s easy to see the attraction of hearing aids that are simple to purchase.

Convenience is the very nature 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 go into your local pharmacy. You pick up a pair of these devices, pay for them, and go home. They essentially amplify all of the sound around you.

Your life can be significantly and positively impacted by this.

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

Over-the-counter hearing aids began appearing in stores around late 2022 after the Food and Drug Administration made some changes to certain rules that allowed for their wider distribution. The rule change aimed at getting hearing aids to more people who really need them for their neglected hearing loss.

You’ve always had to go through somewhat of a process to get prescription hearing aids. And in some cases, that process can keep people away. For individuals who aren’t quite ready to make that leap, over-the-counter hearing aids could be a good alternative. But prescription hearing aids were never 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 individual.

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

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

So, are over-the-counter hearing aids any good at all? There actually can be some benefits to an OTC in certain circumstances. An OTC hearing aid may work best for you if:

  • You want a spare pair to use for emergencies.
  • Your hearing loss is in the early stages and is very simple. For mild cases of hearing loss, these devices will work just fine.
  • You’re never going to get your hearing checked. (Some people never will, even though they absolutely should.) Generally speaking, using an OTC hearing aid will be better than using nothing.
  • Your hearing specialist is recommending an OTC. (For optimum outcomes, ask your hearing specialist to go over settings and style types that might work best for you.)

It’s pretty common for OTC presets to be pre-programmed when you get them. Some devices 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 certainly get a better concept of your level and type of hearing loss.).

OTC hearing aids are often not the right option

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 situation. OTC hearing will not be the best choice for you if:

  • You think OTC hearing aids will save you a lot of money. OTC hearing aids are often nearly as expensive as their prescription-only alternative.
  • Your hearing loss has progressed to a fairly profound 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.
  • You need to hear in challenging or noisy settings. Depending on what settings you need to hear in and exactly what you’re listening to, prescription hearing aids can be customized for those situations.
  • OTC hearing aids aren’t custom fit the way you may need them to be. A custom fit is sometimes necessary for some individuals and OTC hearing aids don’t allow for this.
  • You don’t know precisely which hearing aid to purchase: 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 setting.)
  • Is the money you paid 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? You could be wasting good money and doing more damage to your ears by using OTC hearing aids if they’re not the best solution for your specific hearing loss.

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, scheduling an appointment can help your hearing aids work better.

That’s because learning more about your hearing loss will help you get better treatment. We can help steer you toward the best hearing aid for your symptoms, whether it’s OTC or prescription.

We can also help you get the most out of your new 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.

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