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 get those gallon buckets of ice cream at the grocery store? A whole gallon of ice cream, yum!

But as you get older, you start to get a little more particular. Your ice cream tastes get more specialized and you tend to go for your favorite brand. Those little containers start to become more enticing.

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 pros and cons to each choice. Generic is good in certain situations, but you might want more specialized ice cream in other circumstances.

This same attitude also applies to hearing aids. How effective are those new over-the-counter hearing aids? Well, it’s a lot like that ice cream: it depends on what your plans are.

There can be real detrimental effects from hearing loss

Hearing loss can have a significant effect on your day-to-day activities. When you have untreated hearing loss, you can encounter social isolation, it’s more difficult to carry on even simple conversations, so you steer clear of situations where you encounter other individuals who might want to talk to you.

Which means you wind up estranged from your friends and family. You even steer clear of the cashier at the grocery store. It’s not a happy way to live. And it can cause a faster cognitive decline as you get older.

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

Over-the-counter hearing aids – how they work

It isn’t difficult to understand why people would want to move towards hearing aids that can be purchased easily, given the health consequences 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 go into your local pharmacy. You grab a set of these devices, pay for them, and head home. Once they’re in your ears, they function to boost the sound around you.

This can have a profoundly positive affect on your life.

In some situations over-the-counter hearing aids can work

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 a bit of a process to acquire prescription hearing aids. And sometimes, that process can cause people to stay away. For people who aren’t quite ready to take the step, over-the-counter hearing aids could be a good option. But over-the-counter hearing aids were never designed to take the place of their prescription counterparts.

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

How are OTC hearing aids different from prescription hearing aids?

As a general rule, prescription hearing aids are more powerful and have a lot more personalized functions than OTC hearing aids. They won’t be personalized to your particular requirements and they won’t fit as well.

So is there anything useful or beneficial about OTC hearing aids? There actually can be some benefits to an OTC in particular circumstances. An OTC hearing aid might work best for you if:

  • You have very basic or early-stage hearing loss. For mild instances of hearing loss, these devices will work just fine.
  • You have no intention of getting your hearing assessed. (Some people never will, even though they absolutely should.) An OTC hearing aid is typically better than no hearing aid at all.
  • You’ve checked with your hearing specialist, and they suggest using an OTC hearing aid. (For best results, ask your hearing specialist to address settings and style types that may work best for you.)
  • You want a spare pair in case of emergencies.

It’s pretty common for OTC presets to be pre-programmed when you buy them. Some devices are more effective for low-frequency hearing loss, others might be effective for high-frequency hearing loss. (This is why it’s good to understand more about your own hearing loss before you purchase any hearing aid, OTC or not).

When OTC hearing aids are not a practical fit

So, what are the disadvantages of over-the-counter hearing aids? Are there adverse side effects of over-the-counter hearing aids?

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

  • Your hearing aids don’t fit very well. A custom fit is frequently necessary for some people and OTC hearing aids don’t allow this.
  • You don’t know exactly 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 wearing really loud earbuds.)
  • When you’re in complex and noisy spaces, 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 customized for those situations.
  • You believe OTC hearing aids will save you a ton of money. Well, prescription hearing aids commonly don’t cost a great deal more than OTC hearing aids.
  • Is the money you paid really worth it if that OTC hearing aid isn’t effective in treating your hearing loss?
  • You have more profound hearing loss. More profound cases of hearing loss will call for a more powerful prescription hearing aid while mild cases may do fine with OTC hearing aids.

What are the risks of over-the-counter hearing aids? You could be wasting good money and doing more damage to 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

For some people, OTC hearing aids will be okay, but for others, prescription hearing aids will be needed. But either way, making an appointment can help your hearing aids work better.

You will be capable of getting better treatment once you know more about your hearing loss. 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.

Schedule an appointment with us so we can help you determine what hearing aid type is best for you.

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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