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 supermarket? A whole gallon of ice cream, yum!

But you begin to become more particular in your taste as you mature. Your ice cream tastes get more specialized and you have a tendency to go for your favorite brand. Those smaller containers start to become more enticing.

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

Obviously, we’re also referring to hearing aids here. Are new over-the-counter hearing aids worthwhile? Well, it’s much like that ice cream: it depends on what your goals are.

Hearing loss can have serious impacts

Your daily life can be significantly impacted by hearing loss. Social isolation that frequently comes along with hearing loss can cause you to abstain from having conversations because you’re unable to hear what people are saying.

This can make you feel distant from your family and friends. You even avoid the cashier at the supermarket. It isn’t a happy way to live. And it can cause a faster mental decline as you get older.

So it’s not just that you can’t hear what your family and friends are saying, but you could also be increasing your risk of other potentially serious health problems.

Over-the-counter hearing aids – how they function

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

By their very nature, over-the-counter hearing aids are designed to be convenient. You simply walk into your local pharmacy and you never need to schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist. You grab a set of these devices, pay for them, and go home. 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 instances over-the-counter hearing aids can do the job

Over-the-counter hearing aids began appearing on store shelves in late 2022 after the Food and Drug Administration made changes to certain rules that allowed for their broader distribution. The thinking was that if hearing aids were more easily available, you’d end up with fewer people who had untreated hearing loss.

It’s never been difficult to get a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. And in some cases, that process can keep people away. Over-the-counter hearing aids may not be a bad solution for people who just aren’t ready to deal with the process. But over-the-counter hearing aids were not manufactured to replace their prescription counterparts.

Unfortunately, this means that individuals now bear some of the burden of determining when OTC hearing aids are a good choice (and when they aren’t).

How are OTC hearing aids different than prescription hearing aids?

As a general rule, prescription hearing aids are more powerful and have a lot more personalized features than OTC 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? There actually can be some advantages to an OTC in specific circumstances. An OTC hearing aid might work best for you if:

  • You’re never going to get a hearing test. (Some people never will, even though they absolutely should.) Usually, using an OTC hearing aid will be better than using nothing.
  • Your hearing loss is in the early stages and is very simple. These devices are good for very mild or moderate hearing loss.
  • You’ve checked with your hearing specialist, and they endorse using an OTC hearing aid. (Hopefully, your hearing specialist will even recommend which style or type, and what settings will perform most optimally.)
  • You want a spare pair to use for emergencies.

Usually, OTC hearing aids are sold with specific presets already in place. If your hearing loss is in the lower frequencies, some types will be the right choice and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other models will be the best choice. (So before you purchase a hearing aid, you should certainly get a better concept of your level and type of hearing loss.).

When OTC hearing aids are not a good fit

So are there negative aspects to OTC hearing aids? Will you experience undesirable effects from OTC hearing aids?

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

  • Is the money you spent really worth it if that OTC hearing aid is that much lower in power?
  • When you’re in complex and noisy settings, you need to be able to hear. The majority of prescription hearing aids can be personalized depending on what you need to hear and where you need to hear it.
  • Your hearing aids don’t fit well. In some cases, you might need something with a custom fit, which is only feasible with a prescription hearing aid.
  • Exactly which hearing aid to purchase is still uncertain to you: The wrong hearing aids can actually make your hearing worse for someone who has hearing loss. (It’s like the equivalent of wearing really loud earbuds.)
  • You think OTC hearing aids will save you a ton of money. OTC hearing aids are usually nearly as expensive as their prescription-only counterparts.
  • Your hearing loss has progressed to a fairly profound stage. While OTC hearing aids can be helpful for less significant hearing loss, profound hearing loss will need something more powerful and more sophisticated.

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

Consult a hearing specialist either way

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

That’s because understanding more about your hearing loss will help you get better treatment. We can help guide 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.

If you believe you have hearing loss and want to see if OTC hearing aids are right for you, make 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.