What to know about over-the-counter hearing aids

If you are one of the many people who have been considering hearing aids but feel like they’re out-of-reach financially or just not sure how much it’ll cost to get them, you’re not alone. It’s a common issue. That’s why, in 2017, Congress passed legislation that would allow over-the-counter (OTC) purchases for adults 18 and older with mild to moderate hearing loss (children still require a prescription).

February 22, 2022

As recently as October 2021, the FDA released their draft guidance allowing hearing aids “to be sold directly to consumers in stores or online without a medical exam or a fitting by an audiologist.” By increasing competition in the market, this measure will make hearing devices more affordable. But before you consider an over-the-counter product for yourself or a loved one, there are a few things to consider.

The FDA’s guidance includes a clarification that personal sound amplification devices (PSAPs) are not intended for hearing loss and are not the same as OTC hearing aids. And in addition to adjustments for OTCs performance and design, volume limits will be in place to prevent accidental injury.

Is An Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Right For Me?

Usually, it’s our friends and family who notice hearing loss first. If they complain about repeating themselves all of the time, that could be an early warning sign. Of course, see a doctor as soon as possible if you experience sudden hearing loss, a significant difference in one ear, or ringing in only one of your ears. These could all be warning signs of something more serious.

If you suspect you have hearing loss or only notice it once in a while, an OTC may help you. However, if you have difficulty hearing when it’s quiet, or if you have difficulty hearing in public spaces, OTCs may not deliver what you need.

Studies show that people with hearing loss are generally more satisfied with premium hearing aids. These results are based on factors related to overall comfort and how effectively they process background noise when in a group setting. But because of the cost associated with this degree of technology, OTC hearing aids lack the same sophistication and user experience.

Other research shows that an overwhelming majority of those who have tried OTC hearing aids tried more than one. Nearly three-quarters picked the wrong devices based on their audiograms, and over half ended up abandoning their OTC. So, seeking a knowledgeable care provider at the beginning of your journey is recommended.

The Benefits Of Ongoing Hearing Care

The truth is, long-term satisfaction with hearing aids becomes exponentially higher when a full-service audiologist fits your hearing instrument. And we can advise you about a range of other audio-streaming devices, including options like Bluetooth and assistive listening devices.

Additionally, improving your hearing leads to other health benefits, too. Hearing aids help reduce rates of depression and delay onset cognitive decline. It’s safe to say that the longer you wait, the more difficult it is to treat and overcome hearing loss.

The Pros And Cons Of Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids

As we’ve discussed, if you only notice hearing loss once in a while, OTCs may make sense. They’re much more affordable and readily available, making the process of obtaining one very convenient. Suppose you do need a hearing but aren’t ready to accept the reality of your hearing loss. In that case, an OTC can serve as a temporary transitional device. Though again, it is not the same as a hearing aid.

Likewise, OTCs do not factor results from hearing tests performed by an audiologist, so they will never fit or function as an actual hearing aid. Not only that, they don’t come with the educational resources you receive with a more sophisticated hearing aid and are limited in how they can be adjusted. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for OTCs to further damage your hearing rather than help it. And when you skip working with a full-service audiologist, you run the risk of missing a serious underlying health condition associated with hearing loss.

So, if your spouse or children beg you to get your hearing checked, please do it. If you can’t participate in business meetings or hear in group settings, it’s time to take action. It’s not just about hearing better; it’s about improving your relationships and the quality of your life.

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