Over the Counter Hearing Aids: Are You Taking a Chance?

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 supermarket? As a kid, they were awesome because they offered an entire gallon of ice cream, that’s a lot of frozen custard and high-fructose corn syrup!

But you start to become more particular in your taste as you mature. Your ice cream tastes become more specialized and you tend to opt for your favorite brand. Those smaller containers begin to become more enticing.

Nevertheless, if you’re hosting a big 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 some circumstances, but you might want more specialized ice cream in other circumstances.

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

There can be real negative effects from hearing loss

Hearing loss can have a significant effect on your day-to-day experiences. Social solitude that often accompanies hearing loss can cause you to avoid having conversations because you’re unable to hear what others are saying.

Which means you wind up estranged from your family and friends. When you go to the supermarket you go to self-checkout so you can avoid the cashiers. It’s lonely. And it can bring about a faster mental decline as you get older.

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

Over-the-counter hearing aids – how they function

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

Convenience is the very nature of the appeal 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 pair of these devices, pay for them, and head home. Once you put them in, they work to amplify the sound around you.

This can have a profoundly positive affect on your life.

In some circumstances over-the-counter hearing aids can do the job

In 2022 the Food and Drug Administration changed some rules about the sale of hearing aids that allowed stores like pharmacies to sell them. The thinking was that if hearing aids were more readily available, you’d wind up with fewer people who had neglected hearing loss.

You’ve always had to go through a bit 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 solution for people who just aren’t ready to deal with the process. But over-the-counter hearing aids were never manufactured to replace their prescription counterparts.

But this means that some of the burden of understanding when over-the-counter hearing aids are or aren’t the best option lies with the individual.

What’s the essential difference between over-the-counter and prescription hearing aids?

Generally speaking, OTC hearing aids aren’t quite as powerful, efficient, or customizable as prescription hearing aids. They won’t be personalized to your specific needs and they won’t fit as well.

So is there anything helpful or positive about OTC hearing aids? Well, yes, in specific cases. An OTC hearing aid may work best for you if:

  • 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. For mild instances of hearing loss, these devices will work ok.
  • You’ve consulted your hearing specialist, and they recommend using an OTC hearing aid. (For optimum outcomes, ask your hearing specialist to go over settings and style types that might work best for you.)
  • You have no plan to get your hearing test. (You absolutely should. But we also recognize that some individuals just never will.) An OTC hearing aid is generally better than no hearing aid at all.

It’s pretty typical for OTC presets to be pre-programmed when you buy them. If your hearing loss is in the lower frequencies, some types will be best and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other designs will be the best option. (This is why it’s good to know more about your own hearing loss before you purchase any hearing aid, OTC or not).

OTC hearing aids are often not the best choice

So are there downsides to OTC hearing aids? Are there side effects of over-the-counter hearing aids?

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

  • You have more profound hearing loss. While OTC hearing aids can be good for mild and moderate hearing loss, severe hearing loss will require something more powerful and more sophisticated.
  • When you’re in complex and noisy settings, you need to be able to hear. The majority of prescription hearing aids can be customized depending on what you need to hear and where you need to hear it.
  • Is the money you paid really worth it if that OTC hearing aid is that much lower in power?
  • Exactly which hearing aid to purchase is still unknown to you: For some people who have hearing loss, the wrong hearing aids can actually harm their ears. (It’s not a lot different than if you turn your earbuds up to a really loud setting.)
  • OTC hearing aids are not custom fit the way you may need them to be. Sometimes, you may need something with a custom fit, which is only possible with a prescription hearing aid.
  • You’re only considering OTC hearing aids because you think they cost a lot less. OTC hearing aids are frequently nearly as costly as their prescription-only alternative.

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

See a hearing specialist either way

For some individuals, OTC hearing aids will be fine, but for others, prescription hearing aids will be appropriate. Whichever option is best for your circumstance, your hearing aids will work better after you have an appointment with us.

You will be able to get 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 circumstance.

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

If you think you have hearing loss and want to find out if OTC hearing aids are right 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.