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 grocery store? An entire gallon of ice cream, yum!

But as you grow up, you begin to get a little more particular. Your ice cream preferences become 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 spring for those generic Kemp’s ice cream buckets. Which means that every type of ice cream has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Generic is good in certain circumstances, but you may want more specific ice cream in other circumstances.

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

Hearing loss can have significant affects

Hearing loss can have a significant effect on your everyday activities. 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 people who might want to talk to you.

This can cause you to feel distant from your family and friends. You even steer clear of the cashier at the supermarket. It isn’t a happy way to live. 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 problems to worry about too!

How do over-the-counter hearing aids function?

It isn’t hard to understand why people would want to move towards hearing aids that can be bought easily, given the health repercussions of hearing loss.

Convenience is the very backbone of the attraction of over-the-counter hearing aids. Instead of going to consult a hearing specialist and getting fitted for hearing aids, you just walk into your local pharmacy. You grab a pair of these devices, pay for them, and head home. They basically amplify all of the sound around you.

This can have a profoundly positive impact on your life.

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 rule change aimed at getting hearing aids to more individuals who really need them for their untreated hearing loss.

You’ve always had to go through somewhat of a process to acquire prescription hearing aids. And in some cases, that process can keep people away. Over-the-counter hearing aids may not be a bad choice for people who just aren’t ready to make the leap. But over-the-counter hearing aids weren’t manufactured to take the place of 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 individual.

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 customizable features than OTC hearing aids. They won’t be personalized to your particular requirements and they won’t fit as well.

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

  • You have very simple or early-stage hearing loss. These devices are great for really mild or moderate hearing loss.
  • You’re never going to get your hearing checked. (You really should. But we also acknowledge that some individuals simply never will.) An OTC hearing aid is typically better than no hearing aid at all.
  • You’ve consulted your hearing specialist, and they recommend using an OTC hearing aid. (Hopefully, your hearing specialist will even advise which style or type, and what settings will perform most optimally.)
  • You keep a set around just in case your prescription hearing aids need to go in for maintenance.

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

OTC hearing aids are frequently not the best choice

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

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

  • You’re only thinking about OTC hearing aids because of perceived cost savings. Well, prescription hearing aids commonly don’t cost much more than OTC hearing aids.
  • A less expensive hearing aid that doesn’t effectively manage your hearing loss probably isn’t worth what it cost you.
  • When you’re in challenging and noisy settings, you need to be able to hear. Depending on what surroundings you need to hear in and precisely what you’re listening to, prescription hearing aids can be personalized for those situations.
  • Your hearing aids don’t fit well. Sometimes, 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: For some people with hearing loss, the wrong hearing aids can actually harm their ears. (It’s comparable to wearing really loud earbuds.)
  • You have more profound hearing loss. While OTC hearing aids can be good for mild and moderate hearing loss, profound hearing loss will need something more powerful and more refined.

What are the risks of over-the-counter 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.

See a hearing specialist either way

For some people, OTC hearing aids will be okay, but for others, prescription hearing aids will be necessary. Whichever decision is best for your situation, your hearing aids will work better after you have an appointment with us.

That’s because learning 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 situation.

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 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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