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 find 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 start to get a bit more particular. Your ice cream tastes get more specialized and you tend to go for your favorite brand. Those smaller containers start to become more enticing.

But you will still probably go for that big bucket if you’re having a large dinner party. There are benefits and drawbacks to each choice. Generic is good in certain circumstances, but you might want more specific ice cream in other circumstances.

This same attitude also applies to hearing aids. Are newer over-the-counter hearing aids any good? Well, much like our ice cream illustration, it depends on what you want to do.

Hearing loss can have serious impacts

Your day-to-day life can be seriously impacted by hearing loss. Social solitude that frequently comes along with hearing loss can cause you to abstain from having conversations because you’re unable to hear what others are saying.

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

So it isn’t just that you can’t hear what your friends and family are saying, but you could also be increasing your risk of other potentially serious health problems.

How do over-the-counter hearing aids work?

It isn’t difficult to recognize why individuals would want to move towards hearing aids that can be bought easily, given the health consequences of hearing loss.

By their very nature, over-the-counter hearing aids are made to be convenient. You simply go into your local pharmacy and you never have to schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist. You’re on your way home as soon as you get and pay for these devices. Once you put them in, they function to boost the sound around you.

This can have a profoundly positive impact on your life.

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

Over-the-counter hearing aids started to appear on store shelves in late 2022 after the Food and Drug Administration made changes to certain rules that allowed for their wider distribution. The thinking was that if hearing aids were more conveniently available, you’d end up with fewer people who had untreated hearing loss.

It’s never been difficult to purchase a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. And in some cases, that process can cause people to stay away. Over-the-counter hearing aids may not be a bad choice for individuals who just aren’t ready to deal with the process. But prescription hearing aids were never meant to be replaced by over-the-counter models.

Unfortunately, this means that individuals now bear some of the burden of knowing 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?

In general, OTC hearing aids are not quite as powerful, capable, or personalized as prescription hearing aids. They won’t be personalized to your particular needs and they won’t fit as well.

So, are over-the-counter hearing aids worthwhile at all? Well, yes, in specific situations. An OTC hearing aid may work best for you if:

  • You’ve checked with your hearing specialist, and they recommend using an OTC hearing aid. (For best results, ask your hearing specialist to go over settings and style types that might work best for you.)
  • You keep a pair around just in case your prescription hearing aids need to go in for maintenance.
  • You have really basic or early-stage hearing loss. These devices are good for very mild or moderate hearing loss.
  • You have no plan to get your hearing checked. (You definitely should. But we also acknowledge that some people just never will.) Usually, using an OTC hearing aid will be better than using nothing.

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

When OTC hearing aids aren’t a good solution

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

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

  • Exactly which hearing aid to get is still uncertain to you: For some people who have hearing loss, the wrong hearing aids can actually damage their ears. (It’s not much different than if you turn your earbuds up to a really loud setting.)
  • You need to hear in complex or noisy environments. The majority of prescription hearing aids can be customized depending on what you need to hear and where you need to hear it.
  • You’re only considering OTC hearing aids because you think they cost a lot less. Well, prescription hearing aids frequently don’t cost a great deal more than OTC hearing aids.
  • Your hearing loss has advanced to a fairly severe stage. While OTC hearing aids can be helpful for mild and moderate hearing loss, profound hearing loss will need something more powerful and more sophisticated.
  • Your hearing aids don’t fit very well. A custom fit is sometimes necessary for some people and OTC hearing aids don’t allow for this.
  • A less expensive hearing aid that doesn’t adequately treat your hearing loss most likely isn’t worth the money you paid for it.

Are there any dangers that come with OTC hearing aids? Generally speaking, if you aren’t a good candidate for OTC hearing aids, you could be throwing some money away or making your hearing loss worse.

Consult a hearing specialist either way

OTC hearing aids are suitable for some individuals and prescription hearing aids are a good fit for others. But either way, making an appointment can help your hearing aids work better.

You will be capable of getting better treatment when you know more about your hearing loss. We can help guide you toward the best hearing aid for your symptoms, whether it’s OTC or prescription.

Similarly, we can help you better adapt to a new pair of hearing aids, and get the most out of the technology.

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

The content of this blog is the intellectual property of MedPB.com and is reprinted here with permission.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive a personalized free hearing test and hearing loss consultation, call today to set up an appointment.

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