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

Do you recall those gallon buckets of ice cream you used to find at grocery stores? 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 begin to become more specific in your taste as you mature. You begin opting for the more specialized ice cream: the Turkey Hill, the Tillamook, the Ben & Jerry’s. Those smaller containers begin to become more enticing.

But you will probably still go for that big bucket if you’re having a large dinner party. There are pros and cons to each choice. In some situations, you will want to go for the specialized selection, and in others, the generic will be the best choice.

Obviously, we’re also discussing hearing aids here. 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.

Hearing loss can have significant impacts

Your daily life can be significantly effected by hearing loss. Social isolation that often comes along with hearing loss can cause you to avoid having conversations because you’re unable to hear what others are saying.

This can cause you to feel removed from your friends and family. You even avoid the cashier at the supermarket. It’s lonely. And as you get older, your cognitive faculties can deteriorate faster.

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

How do over-the-counter hearing aids work?

Given the harm that hearing loss can cause, it’s not hard to see the appeal of hearing aids that are easy to get.

By their very nature, over-the-counter hearing aids are designed to be convenient. Instead of going to consult a hearing specialist and getting fitted for hearing aids, you just go into your local pharmacy. You pick up a set of these devices, pay for them, and head home. They basically amplify all of the sound around you.

Your life can be profoundly and positively impacted by this.

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

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 rule change focused on getting hearing aids to more people who really need them for their neglected hearing loss.

It’s never been hard to get a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. And sometimes, that process can cause people to stay away. For individuals who aren’t quite ready to take the step, over-the-counter hearing aids may be a good substitute. But prescription hearing aids were not meant to be replaced by over-the-counter models.

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

How are OTC hearing aids different than 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 requirements and they won’t fit as well.

So is there anything helpful or positive about OTC hearing aids? Well, yes, in certain situations. OTC hearing aids might be the best choice if:

  • You want a spare pair in case of emergencies.
  • You have really basic or early-stage hearing loss. These devices are great for very mild or moderate hearing loss.
  • Your hearing specialist is recommending an OTC. (For optimum outcomes, ask your hearing specialist to go over settings and style types that might work best for you.)
  • You’re never going to get a hearing test. (You absolutely should. But we also recognize that some individuals just never will.) An OTC hearing aid is typically better than no hearing aid at all.

Typically, OTC hearing aids are sold with certain presets already programmed in. If your hearing loss is in the lower frequencies, some models will be best and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other designs will be the best choice. (So before you purchase a hearing aid, you should certainly get a better concept of your level and type of hearing loss.).

OTC hearing aids are frequently not the best option

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 circumstance. OTC hearing will not be the best option for you if:

  • Your hearing loss has progressed to a fairly severe stage. While OTC hearing aids can be helpful for less significant hearing loss, profound hearing loss will need something more powerful and more refined.
  • When you’re in complex and noisy settings, you need to be able to hear. Depending on what settings you need to hear in and precisely what you’re listening to, prescription hearing aids can be personalized for those situations.
  • You believe OTC hearing aids will save you a ton of money. OTC hearing aids are often nearly as costly as their prescription-only alternative.
  • You don’t know exactly which hearing aid to buy: The wrong hearing aids can actually make your hearing worse for somebody who has hearing loss. (It’s like the equivalent of wearing really loud earbuds.)
  • Your hearing aids don’t fit very well. Sometimes, you may require something with a custom fit, which is only possible with a prescription hearing aid.
  • Is the money you spent really worth it if that OTC hearing aid isn’t effective in treating your hearing loss?

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 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 needed. But either way, making an appointment can help your hearing aids work better.

That’s because learning more about your hearing loss will help you get better treatment. We can help guide you toward the best hearing aid for your situation, whether it’s OTC or prescription.

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.