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

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 the best thing ever because they offered an entire gallon of ice cream, that’s a lot of frozen custard and high-fructose corn syrup!

But as you grow up, you begin to get a little more specific. Your ice cream tastes get more specialized and you tend to go for your favorite brand. All of a sudden, those smaller containers are the ones that are appealing.

Nevertheless, if you’re hosting a big dinner party, you’re likely to go for those generic Kemp’s ice cream buckets. Which means that each kind of ice cream has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. In some situations, you will want to go for the specialized option, 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 much like that ice cream: it depends on what your plans are.

Hearing loss can have serious impacts

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

Which means you wind up estranged from your friends and family. When you go to the supermarket you use self-checkout so you can steer clear of the cashiers. It’s lonely. And as you get older, your cognitive faculties can deteriorate faster.

So not only are you missing out on conversations with your loved ones (making birthdays and holidays a lot less fun, for example), but you have other health issues to worry about also!

Over-the-counter hearing aids – how they work

It’s not hard to understand why people would want to go towards hearing aids that can be obtained easily, given the health consequences of hearing loss.

Convenience is the very nature of the appeal of over-the-counter hearing aids. You just walk into your local pharmacy and you never have to schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist. You’re on your way home right after you get and pay for these devices. Once they’re in your ears, they work to amplify the sound around you.

Your life can be significantly and positively influenced by this.

Over-the-counter hearing aids can work in some situations

Over-the-counter hearing aids started to appear in stores around late 2022 after the Food and Drug Administration made some changes to certain rules that allowed for their broader distribution. The idea was that if hearing aids were more conveniently available, you’d wind up with fewer people who had untreated hearing loss.

It’s never been hard to get a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. Many people, regrettably, feel intimidated by this process so they avoid it. Over-the-counter hearing aids might not be a bad choice for individuals who just aren’t ready to deal with the process. But over-the-counter hearing aids were never manufactured to take the place of their prescription counterparts.

Unfortunately, this means that consumers now bear some of the burden of knowing when OTC hearing aids are a good fit (and when they aren’t).

How are OTC hearing aids different than prescription hearing aids?

Generally speaking, 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, are over-the-counter hearing aids worthwhile at all? There actually can be some advantages to an OTC in particular situations. An OTC hearing aid may work best for you if:

  • You’ve consulted your hearing specialist, and they suggest using an OTC hearing aid. (For optimum outcomes, ask your hearing specialist to go over settings and style types that may work best for you.)
  • You have really simple or early-stage hearing loss. For mild cases of hearing loss, these devices will work ok.
  • You have no plan to get your hearing checked. (Some people never will, even though they definitely should.) Generally speaking, using an OTC hearing aid will be better than using no hearing aid.
  • You want a spare set to use for emergencies.

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 models will be the best choice. (This is why it’s good to understand 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, 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 great fit for everyone in every circumstance. In general, OTC hearing aids may not be the right solution for you if:

  • You’re only interested in OTC hearing aids because of perceived cost savings. OTC hearing aids are frequently nearly as costly as their prescription-only alternative.
  • A cheaper hearing aid that does not effectively treat your hearing loss probably isn’t worth what it cost you.
  • Your hearing loss has progressed to a fairly profound stage. More profound cases of hearing loss will require a more powerful prescription hearing aid while minor cases may do fine with OTC hearing aids.
  • Your hearing aids don’t fit well. Sometimes, you might need something with a custom fit, which is only feasible with a prescription hearing aid.
  • When you’re in challenging 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.
  • Exactly which hearing aid to get is still uncertain to you: For some people who have hearing loss, the wrong hearing aids can actually damage their ears. (It’s like the equivalent of using really loud earbuds.)

What are the risks of over-the-counter 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.

Either way, you should consult a hearing specialist

For some people, OTC hearing aids will be okay, but for others, prescription hearing aids will be appropriate. Whichever option is best for your situation, your hearing aids will work better after you get an appointment with us.

You will be able to get better treatment once you know more about your hearing loss. Whether your hearing loss calls for 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 adapt to a new pair of hearing aids, and get the most out of the technology.

If you think you have hearing loss and want to see if OTC hearing aids are right for you, schedule 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.