You’re Taking Risks if You go With Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids

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 bit more specific. Your ice cream tastes become more specialized and you tend to opt for your favorite brand. Those little containers start to become more enticing.

But you will probably still go for that big bucket if you’re hosting a big dinner party. There are pros and cons to each choice. Generic is good in some circumstances, but you might want more specialized ice cream in other situations.

This same mentality also pertains to hearing aids. Are new over-the-counter hearing aids worthwhile? Well, much like our ice cream example, it depends on what your goals are.

Hearing loss can have serious affects

Hearing loss can have a considerable effect on your day-to-day activities. Social solitude that often accompanies hearing loss can cause you to abstain from having conversations because you can’t hear what others are saying.

This can cause you to feel removed from your family and friends. When you go to the store you go to self-checkout so you can avoid the cashiers. It isn’t a happy way to live. And it can bring about a faster cognitive decline as you age.

So it isn’t only that you’re unable to hear what your friends and family are saying, but you could also be enhancing your chances of other potentially severe health issues.

How do over-the-counter hearing aids function?

Given the damage that hearing loss can cause, it’s easy to see the attraction of hearing aids that are simple to buy.

Convenience is the very nature of the attraction of over-the-counter hearing aids. Instead of going to see a hearing specialist and getting fitted for hearing aids, you just walk into your local pharmacy. You grab a set of these devices, pay for them, and go home. They basically amplify all of 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 like pharmacies to sell them. The idea was that if hearing aids were more easily available, you’d wind up with fewer people who had neglected hearing loss.

It’s never been difficult to purchase a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. Many individuals, unfortunately, feel intimidated by this process so they avoid it. For individuals who aren’t quite ready to take the step, over-the-counter hearing aids can be a good alternative. But prescription hearing aids were not meant to be replaced by over-the-counter models.

Sadly, 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 quite as well, and they won’t be personalized to your needs.

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

  • You keep a set on hand just in case your prescription hearing aids need to go in for repair.
  • Your hearing loss is in the early phases and is very simple. These devices are great for very mild or moderate hearing loss.
  • You have no plan to get your hearing assessed. (You absolutely should. But we also acknowledge that some people simply never will.) An OTC hearing aid is typically better than no hearing aid at all.
  • You’ve consulted your hearing specialist, and they suggest using an OTC hearing aid. (For best results, ask your hearing specialist to go over settings and style types that may work best for you.)

It’s pretty common for OTC presets to be pre-programmed when you get them. Some types are more effective for low-frequency hearing loss, others might be good 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 are not a practical fit

So are there downsides to OTC hearing aids? Will you encounter undesirable effects from OTC hearing aids?

Well every scenario won’t include OTC hearing aids, let’s just say. In general, OTC hearing aids may not be the right solution for you if:

  • You’re only thinking about OTC hearing aids because you think they cost a lot less. Well, prescription hearing aids frequently don’t cost much more than OTC hearing aids.
  • 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.
  • Exactly which hearing aid to get is still unknown to you: For some individuals with hearing loss, the wrong hearing aids can actually harm their ears. (It’s not much different than if you turn your earbuds up to a really loud volume.)
  • When you’re in complex and noisy settings, you need to be able to hear. Most prescription hearing aids can be personalized depending on what you need to hear and where you need to hear it.
  • OTC hearing aids are not custom fit the way you might need them to be. Sometimes, you might require something with a custom fit, which is only feasible with a prescription hearing aid.
  • A cheaper hearing aid that does not sufficiently treat your hearing loss most likely isn’t worth the money you paid for it.

What are the risks of over-the-counter 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.

Either way, you should consult a hearing specialist

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

That’s because knowing more about your hearing loss will help you find a 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.

In the same way, we can help you better adjust to a new pair of hearing aids, and get the most out of the technology.

If you believe you have hearing loss and want to find out 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.