How to Maximize the Performance of Your Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids and What to Do If They Don’t Work

10/12/2022 | Hearing Aid Repairs, Hearing Aids, OTC, Patient Resources, Technology, Troubleshooting


If you are reading this article, it is possible that you have already purchased your OTC hearing aids and are now looking for ways you can get the most out of them.

However, if you haven’t, but you are thinking about purchasing a pair, then you might want to consider reading this article first, as it will help you decide whether OTC hearing aids are right for your type of hearing loss.

So, how do you get the most out of these new little widgets that you bought to help you to hear?

OTC hearing aids have been designed to amplify sounds for people with a perceived mild to moderate hearing loss similar to, but not the same as, PSAPs (Personal Sound Amplifying Products). They are not the same as prescription or traditional hearing aids, which are customized and programmed based on a formal assessment of your hearing and communication needs.

In this article, we will share four tips that have been tried and tested by our experts, which we are confident will help you maximize the performance of your OTC devices so that you can get the most out of them.

Tip #1 – Know What Situations Your Specific OTC Devices Have Been Designed For

This tip is really useful to people who are considering buying OTC devices, but it’s equally useful to know for those who have already bought them.

It might come as a surprise to you that not all OTC devices are the same, and there are in fact some that have been designed for very specific situations. The device manufacturer’s website should clearly state where the devices will shine the most, so it’s always worth checking this.

Some OTC devices will perform well when it comes to streaming audio, but they may not be designed to perform well in outdoor settings, therefore making them problematic in wind. Similarly, others may be designed for performing well in the car and handling road noise but may not perform as well in multi-speaker babble (like a restaurant).

Understanding speech in noise is the number one complaint by individuals seeking better hearing solutions. Digital sound processors and microphone arrays have been researched and developed to address this issue since the dawn of digital sound processing applications in hearing aids. It is the most complicated sound processing there is and the reason for that is the definition for “noise” is different based on multiple parameters as well as perception. Any OTC hearing aid or even prescription hearing aid that claims to “solve your speech in noise problems” is exaggerating their abilities and may only address one or two environments where you are trying to understand speech in noise.

If you know the environment your devices are designed for, you may have more realistic expectations about the limitations of the device. It also helps to understand what you consider “background noise” as well as the acoustics of the environments that you are struggling to hear in.

However, if you’ve already purchased your devices and don’t know the environment your devices were designed for and are struggling to get the best sound quality in the environments you need them for, please don’t panic, as our other tips should help you maximize your devices’ performance regardless of their original purpose.

Tip #2 – Understand Your OTC Devices’ “Listening Bubble”

You may know that your OTC device has a little microphone, which is how sound is picked up, and where the microphone is directed is where you will pick up sound.

What you may not know though is that the quality and volume of this sound is determined by something called the “listening bubble,” which, simply put, is the distance or radius that your microphone is designed to amplify sound within.

For example, a microphone is going to have an easier time picking up on your own voice because it is the closest sound to the microphone and therefore your voice is going to be the loudest thing you hear. However, someone who is speaking from across the room may actually be outside your listening bubble, which makes their voice softer by the time it is picked up by the microphone.

By moving closer to what you are wanting to hear (i.e. another person) while trying to move away from the noises you don’t want to hear (i.e. the voices of people you’re not in conversation with) will help you perform better with any amplification device.

Tip #3 – Watch Out for the Wind!

Wind noise can be really hard on people who use OTC hearing devices to increase the volume of sounds around them, as the wind physically touches the microphone and therefore distorts the sounds that enter it.

If you find yourself in an unavoidably “windy” situation, then finding something to cover your devices’ microphones is the best way to ensure you don’t have to compromise on the sound quality. You may find that a hat or a hood helps, or (if you have it and are able to do so) wearing your hair down will help the wind from brushing the microphones.

Tip #4 – Minimize Background Noise

Our final tip is one that may sound obvious, but it’s certainly worth mentioning, as the simple things are often easy to forget.

Try turning off the radio or television before having phone conversations, as this will make it easier for you to hear the other person when streaming phone calls through your device; it can also help the person on the other end of the line hear you much better too.

This is because any additional noise that the microphone picks up within your listening bubble will fight its way to be heard and can distort the sounds around it.

What to Do If You’re Still Unsatisfied with Your OTC Devices’ Performance

Although your OTC devices aren’t covered by insurance, many manufacturers will have web pages specifically geared toward end-user satisfaction with tips and tricks for troubleshooting. If you can’t find anything on their website, check out their YouTube channel and social media platforms – there may be helpful “how-to” videos you can watch, or, if someone has posted a similar problem, they may have posted it on a consumer forum, which, if you type your problem straight into your internet search bar, should lead you to any helpful answers.

It’s useful to know that the top two issues that will cause failure in any ear-worn amplification device will be earwax/oils and moisture, usually from sweat. If your OTC hearing aid is not performing as expected, check for moisture or debris in both of the microphones and the receivers.

However, if you feel like you’ve tried every trick in the book to get your OTC devices to perform well and you’re still unhappy with them, don’t worry, help is at hand in the form of professional support (and yes, of course you can seek the help of an audiologist with OTC hearing devices!).

Our team has been working with OTC hearing aids for several years and we would be happy to schedule a one-on-one visit to help you learn more about your devices.

If you feel you could benefit from it, we also offer Hearing Aid Performance Evaluations where we can verify and validate the benefit you are receiving from your OTC hearing aids and make recommendations based on the results.

OTC hearing aids are marketed to and designed for people who want a lower cost option without the support and recommendations of a hearing healthcare specialist. Sometimes having a professional assessment of your needs can help you get the most out of your recent OTC purchase; there is no shame in asking for professional support with your new tech. The Geek Squad and Genius Bar are prime examples that even the most tech savvy purchasers of user friendly consumer devices sometimes need some professional assistance to get the most out of their new widgets. So rest assured your local audiology clinic will be there to help you should you need support.

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Erika Shakespeare CCC-A

Erika Shakespeare, CCC-A, specializes in pediatric and adult diagnostics and amplification. Working with adults to help manage tinnitus and hearing loss since 2002, she is an expert in both of these areas. Additionally, she is a pediatric audiology mentor and educator for pediatric audiologists across the country and is one of the most respected experts on pediatric audiology.

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