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

Do you remember those gallon buckets of ice cream you used to get at supermarkets? As a kid, they were the best thing ever because they offered a whole gallon of ice cream, that’s a lot of frozen custard and high-fructose corn syrup!

But as you grow up, you begin to get a little more particular. Your ice cream tastes get more specialized and you tend to opt for your favorite brand. Those little containers begin to become more appealing.

Still, 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 every kind of ice cream has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. In some scenarios, you will want to go with the specialized option, and in others, the generic will be the best choice.

Obviously, we’re also discussing hearing aids here. Are new over-the-counter hearing aids any good? Well, it’s a lot like that ice cream: it depends on what your goals are.

Hearing loss can have significant impacts

Your day-to-day life can be significantly effected by hearing loss. Social solitude that often comes along with hearing loss can cause you to abstain from having conversations because you can’t hear what people are saying.

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

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

How do over-the-counter hearing aids function?

Given the damage that hearing loss can lead to, it’s not very difficult to recognize the appeal of hearing aids that are easy to get.

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 stroll 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 work to amplify the sound around you.

Your life can be greatly and positively influenced by this.

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

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 idea was that if hearing aids were more easily available, you’d end up with fewer people who had neglected hearing loss.

You’ve always had to go through a bit of a process to acquire prescription hearing aids. And sometimes, that process can keep people away. Over-the-counter hearing aids may not be a bad option for people who just aren’t ready to deal with the process. But over-the-counter hearing aids weren’t 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 appropriate option lies with the consumer.

How are OTC hearing aids different from prescription hearing aids?

As a general rule, prescription hearing aids are more powerful and have much 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 beneficial about OTC hearing aids? 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 very simple. These devices are great for really 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 advise which style or type, and what settings will perform most optimally.)
  • You want a spare pair to use for emergencies.
  • You’re never going to get your hearing checked. (Some people never will, even though they absolutely should.) An OTC hearing aid is typically better than no hearing aid at all.

It’s pretty common for OTC presets to be pre-programmed when you buy them. 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 option. (This is why it’s good to understand more about your own hearing loss before you purchase any hearing aid, OTC or not).

OTC hearing aids are frequently not the ideal option

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

Well every situation won’t call for OTC hearing aids, let’s just say. In general, OTC hearing aids may not be the right solution for you if:

  • You need to hear in complex or noisy settings. The majority of prescription hearing aids can be customized depending on what you need to hear and where you need to hear it.
  • OTC hearing aids are not custom fit the way you might need them to be. Sometimes, you may require something with a custom fit, which is only feasible with a prescription hearing aid.
  • You don’t know exactly which hearing aid to purchase: For some people with hearing loss, the wrong hearing aids can actually harm their ears. (It’s not much different than if you turn your earbuds up to a really loud volume.)
  • You believe OTC hearing aids will save you a ton of money. OTC hearing aids are usually nearly as expensive as their prescription-only alternative.
  • 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 mild cases may do fine with OTC hearing aids.
  • A less expensive hearing aid that does not effectively manage your hearing loss probably isn’t worth the money you paid for it.

Are there any dangers that come with OTC 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

OTC hearing aids are a good fit for some individuals 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 knowing more about your hearing loss will help you get better treatment. Whether your hearing loss requires 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 adjust 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, 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.


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