Everything You Need to Know about Affordable Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids: A Pros & Cons Summary

10/11/2022 | Hearing Aids, OTC, Patient Resources, Technology

It’s official. Over-the-counter hearing aids will officially hit drugstores, pharmacies and big box retailers all over the US by mid-October, therefore closing the gap between people with mild hearing loss and them actively accessing the help they need to combat it.

So, with it now more affordable and more accessible than ever to get help with your hearing loss, there are a few things you need to know in order to make the best, most informed decision for you or a loved one.

What’s the Difference between Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids and Prescription Hearing Aids?

There is quite a significant difference between OTC hearing aids and prescription hearing aids.

The simplest comparison would be readers versus having your eyes tested and having corrective lenses prescribed based on your eye test.

This is why over-the-counter devices are being recommended for people with a mild hearing loss that require hearing help in specific situations, rather than a long-term solution.

You put them into your ears when you’re out for a meal or when you’re at church — a little like putting your readers on when reading a newspaper — but they’re not designed to be used as a long-term medical-based solution.

Prescription hearing aids on the other hand are for people who want to prolong their long-term hearing health and maximize their hearing.

Prescription hearing aids require a thorough ear and  hearing evaluation to understand what sounds are being missed and what your listening/communication needs are, and then a set of medical-grade devices are programmed to the exact level of hearing loss, which are then professionally fitted to ensure you achieve the best possible performance. This is coupled with auditory therapy and support so you know how to use your technology to meet your specific hearing and listening goals.

Each step is with a hearing health professional, and there are many steps required to ensure that your devices are adjusted, cleaned, and continue to deliver the outcomes that you’re looking for.

If you have noticed a sudden drop in your hearing quality, then our professional advice is to have a hearing test, as this is the only way you’ll know for sure what level you’re at.

5 Pros of Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids

1. They’re Relatively Cheap

Compared to prescription hearing aids, which are more expensive due to them being personalized and molded to fit your exact ear measurements and hearing loss requirements, OTC hearing aids are a one-size-fits-most concept and are therefore cheaper. The prices still vary, you can pick up a pair from around $800 to $2000.

2. You’re Not Legally Obligated To Have A Hearing Test

This is a somewhat pseudo-pro, as although not being required to have a hearing test before purchasing OTC hearing aids feels like the easy option, it isn’t necessarily the best one, as you could be missing something very important, which, if unchecked or undiagnosed could leave to bigger problems down the line.

3. They Are An Accessible Option For Those At The Start Of Their Hearing Loss Journey

If you’ve only recently noticed a shift in your hearing quality, then the chances are you have a mild hearing loss, which OTC hearing aids are designed for. This is good news if you’re on a budget but still want to do something about your hearing loss, as OTC hearing aids are cheaper than prescribed hearing aids and you don’t have to have a proper diagnosis before purchasing them.

4. More People Will Get Help

By removing the perceived barriers, more people might be inclined to get help with their hearing loss, which, as it’s estimated over 21million Americans are currently living with an untreated hearing loss, can only be a good thing!

5. The Stigma Around Hearing Loss May Lessen

It’s hard to deny there’s a stigma around hearing loss and hearing loss management. People of all ages can be affected by a hearing loss, and as the minimum age of purchase for OTC hearing aids has been set at 18, it means that any young adult who may be suffering with a hearing loss will be able to get help and not feel awkward about it.

5 Cons of Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids

1. The Most Important Step Is Missed Out: The Hearing Health Assessment

One of the biggest concerns the professional hearing care community have with OTC is that they don’t require the individual to have a hearing test before they can purchase them, which, on the face of it seems convenient, however, convenience has a lot to answer for when it encourages you to skip the most important step of getting the right treatment for your hearing loss.

Without a hearing assessment, it’s almost impossible to know what the full diagnosis of the hearing loss is.

Therefore, you’re vulnerable to buying hearing aids that aren’t specific and therefore ineffective for your unique hearing circumstances. You are also vulnerable to missed medical diagnosis of the underlying cause of the hearing loss which could be something as mild as ear wax build up to a life threatening tumor.

2.  They Could Be A Massive Waste Of Your Money

As you’re free to choose whichever hearing device you like, you’re also free to choose one that potentially might not be good for you.

OTC hearing devices are simply sound amplifiers, not hearing loss correctors, so you’re at risk of purchasing something that might not be able to do the job you want it to, which could lead to you wasting a lot of money if you go over your warranty. The FDA did not put any refund requirement regulations in place so read the small print as you may be unable to return purchased devices.

3. You Fit Them Yourself

Audiologists receive advanced education and training for over 7 years in psychoacoustics, digital processing, amplification properties, physics, anatomy and physiology, informational counseling, and more to ensure they know exactly how to fit hearing aids for a specific person’s needs. Without that training, how can you be expected to know whether you’ve fit them correctly – it’s not a fair game!

It’s so important to have a professional fit your devices to ensure they are working exactly how you need them to.

4. There Isn’t Any Follow-up Support

Once you have purchased your OTC devices, that’s it – the service and support stops there.

This means that if you have any problems, you lose a device, or you’re not getting the performance that you require, there is little to no support for you, which includes warranties.

5. Damage Or Loss Isn’t Covered

As hearing aids are very small, it makes them very easy to lose or damage, and this is something we hear about day in, day out with our patients, which is why we will cover you for such loss or damage.

However, with OTC devices, you receive no loss or damage warranty, which means that if you lose them, you need to buy them again.

Medical insurance will NOT cover OTC hearing aids. There are no CPT codes for an OTC device. CPT codes are the required procedural codes used to bill services and medical supplies. OTC hearing aids are not categorized as medical supplies in the same way that prescription hearing aids are.

In Conclusion

Although there are indeed many good things that will come out of the FDA ruling of over-the-counter hearing aids, there is still one element that we, as the professional hearing care community, must speak up against, which is the danger of NOT getting a hearing test done prior to purchasing the OTC devices.

It really is in everyone’s best interests to at least have a hearing test and otoscopy (someone looking in your ears) before parting with a lot of money, as it’s the only way you’ll know for sure what type of hearing loss you have and whether an OTC device is good enough for your specific needs.

If you need further encouragement, please read our article: Why You Should Get Your Hearing Tested.

How Do You Schedule a Hearing Assessment?

If you are in the Eastern Oregon area and you’d like to be responsible for your hearing brain health, or if you have any concerns about your hearing, your first step is to schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment. It’s non-invasive, and the results are available immediately.

We’ll discuss your results with you to let you know either how good your hearing is or how it needs assistance. If a medical issue causes your hearing problem, we will refer you to the right professional to take care of it.

If your hearing can be optimized through a customized hearing treatment plan, we will discuss those options with you and explain them.

Your hearing healthcare is our number one priority. Our expert team is ready to help.

Call us at (541) 612-7555 with any hearing needs or concerns about your own hearing or that of a family member. We would love to support your hearing journey.

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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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