Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids: What you should know
So, you’ve decided that you’re ready for a hearing aid? Congratulations on taking this step.
Hearing well is such an important part of living well. It helps us to connect with friends and family, to stay engaged in the workplace, to enjoy music – and much more. Hearing loss is not something to be ignored, as it can impact our wellbeing and relationships (and, worse, there is growing evidence that it is associated with health risks like cognitive decline, dementia, falls, and depression and anxiety).
But for many who decide that they’re ready to treat their hearing loss with hearing aids, just getting started can be a challenge.
Today, there are many options for people with mild to moderate hearing loss to improve their hearing – from traditional hearing aids (sold through an audiologist) to direct-to-consumer to personal sound amplification products (PSAPS). And, since the FDA established regulation for the category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids in the fall of 2022, this word salad of acronyms has become a bit more confusing.
What are OTC hearing aids?
OTC hearing aids are sold in stores and online without a prescription. They are meant for adults aged 18 and older with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss.
In other words, if you struggle to hear well and do not want to see an audiologist or may be deterred by the cost of traditional hearing aids, you may purchase hearing aids over the counter.
Where can I buy OTC hearing aids?
Even just within the OTC hearing aid category, there’s a variety of options to choose from, and many places you can buy them.
Hearing aids are often sold in major technology warehouse stores, like Best Buy or Target, or at your local drug store. Those who seek customized hearing aids programmed from the results of a hearing test can benefit from online retailers like Audicus.
It can be difficult to know which retailer will have the best option for you. To get started, consider three factors – cost, technology, and customer service.
How should I compare the OTC hearing aid options?
First, the cost. OTC hearing aids can range from around $100 to $3,000. If you go to an audiologist and purchase a hearing aid from a preferred provider, a pair can cost up to $8,000.
Either way, hearing aids are an investment in your overall health and purchasing a high quality OTC pair personalized to meet the needs of your hearing loss may allow you to stretch your dollars a bit further.
Technology is important too – especially when it comes to sound quality. Sound quality depends on how the hearing aids are programmed and, if they are set to match your hearing loss profile and refined over time based on your needs, the sound quality will also help to reduce cognitive load. Factors such as background noise suppression, speech enhancer, and speech finder can make it much easier to hear in loud environments – such as your favorite restaurant.
In addition to functionality, wearing your hearing aids can and should be an enjoyable experience, too. Features like rechargeable batteries (plug them in at night, just like you would your cell phone), app controlled (with the use of a smartphone), and integrated Bluetooth technology so that you can connect your music player, cell phone, and TV to have the sound piped directly into your ears (no need to turn the volume up to the maximum anymore) may be important to you. Hearing aids are an everyday accessory, and you’ll want them to assist you with the things you do, or listen to, every day.
Lastly, but certainly not least important, is the support you receive from your retailer of choice. One of the main questions customers ask before purchasing an OTC hearing aid is, “how the heck am I going to set up this thing?”
While some customers will be satisfied with big-box or drug store purchases with instructions on the back of the packaging, others may want more assistance to make sure that the fit and sound is personalized for their ears and can be adjusted remotely if hearing needs change over time.
If you are vetting online retailers, find one that has a dedicated support team of hearing specialists to walk you through the process from start to finish – from a phone call to discuss the results of your hearing test or a virtual fitting session when you receive your new device to friendly reminders on how to manage the maintenance of your hearing aids – and all done from the comfort of your own home. Bonus points if you speak with the same person every time you call or email.
Are OTC hearing aids right for me?
Hearing aids without a doctor’s visit are not for everyone. People who experience hearing loss along with other symptoms, or those that experience hearing loss suddenly, should be evaluated by a doctor.
But if you do decide to purchase an OTC hearing aid, use this as a comprehensive guide to evaluate your choices to find the best OTC hearing aid for you.