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

Do you remember those gallon buckets of ice cream you used to get at supermarkets? As a kid, they were awesome because they promised 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 bit more specific. Your ice cream tastes get more specialized and you tend to go for your favorite brand. All of a sudden, those smaller containers are the ones that are appealing.

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

Of course, we’re also referring to hearing aids here. How effective are those new over-the-counter hearing aids? Well, much like our ice cream example, it depends on what you want to do.

Hearing loss can have significant affects

Your day-to-day life can be seriously impacted by hearing loss. Social solitude that frequently accompanies hearing loss can cause you to abstain from having conversations because you can’t hear what people are saying.

Which means you find yourself estranged from your family and friends. You even steer clear of the cashier at the supermarket. It’s not a happy way to live. And it can lead to a faster mental decline as you get older.

So not only are you missing out on conversations with your loved ones (making holidays and birthdays much less enjoyable, for instance), but you have other health problems to worry about also!

Over-the-counter hearing aids – how they function

Given the damage that hearing loss can cause, it’s not very difficult to see the appeal of hearing aids that are simple to get.

By their very nature, over-the-counter hearing aids are designed to be convenient. Instead of going to consult a hearing specialist and getting fitted for hearing aids, you just walk into your local pharmacy. You’re on your way home as soon as you get and pay for these devices. They basically amplify all of the sound around you.

Your life can be profoundly and positively influenced by this.

In some situations over-the-counter hearing aids can do the job

In 2022 the Food and Drug Administration changed the rule about the distribution of hearing aids that allowed stores including pharmacies to sell them. The idea was that if hearing aids were more readily available, you’d end up with fewer people who had untreated hearing loss.

You’ve always had to go through somewhat of a process to acquire prescription hearing aids. Many people, unfortunately, feel intimidated by this process so they avoid it. For people who aren’t quite ready to take the step, over-the-counter hearing aids could be a good substitute. But prescription hearing aids were never meant to be replaced by over-the-counter models.

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

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

As a general rule, prescription hearing aids are more powerful and have much more customizable features than OTC hearing aids. They will also not fit particularly as well, and they won’t be personalized to your needs.

So, are over-the-counter hearing aids any good at all? Well, yes, in certain situations. An OTC hearing aid might work best for you if:

  • You keep a set on hand just in case your prescription hearing aids need to go in for repair.
  • You have very basic or early-stage hearing loss. For mild cases of hearing loss, these devices will work ok.
  • Your hearing specialist is recommending an OTC. (Hopefully, your hearing specialist will even recommend which style or type, and what settings will perform most optimally.)
  • You have no plan to get your hearing test. (Some individuals never will, even though they definitely should.) Usually, using an OTC hearing aid will be better than using nothing.

It’s fairly typical for OTC presets to be pre-programmed when you buy them. If your hearing loss is in the lower wavelengths, some models will be the right choice and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other designs will be the best choice. (So before you purchase a hearing aid, you should definitely get a better concept of your level and type of hearing loss.).

When OTC hearing aids aren’t a practical fit

So, what are the drawbacks to over-the-counter hearing aids? Will you experience unwanted effects from OTC hearing aids?

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

  • You need to hear in challenging or noisy settings. Most 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 very well. In some cases, you might require something with a custom fit, which is only feasible with a prescription hearing aid.
  • You don’t know precisely which hearing aid to buy: The wrong hearing aids can actually make your hearing worse for someone with hearing loss. (It’s like the equivalent of using really loud earbuds.)
  • You think OTC hearing aids will save you a lot of money. OTC hearing aids are usually nearly as expensive as their prescription-only alternative.
  • A cheaper hearing aid that doesn’t adequately manage your hearing loss probably isn’t worth what it cost you.
  • You have more profound hearing loss. More severe cases of hearing loss will call for a more powerful prescription hearing aid while mild cases may do fine with OTC hearing aids.

Are there any dangers that come with OTC hearing aids? In general, 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

For some individuals, OTC hearing aids will be fine, but for others, prescription hearing aids will be needed. 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. Whether your hearing loss requires prescription hearing aids or OTC hearing aids, we can help you get the best treatment for your circumstance.

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

If you think 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.