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

Remember when you used to be able to get those gallon buckets of ice cream at the supermarket? An entire gallon of ice cream, yum!

But as you grow up, you begin to get a little more specific. You begin opting for the more specialized ice cream: the Haagen-Daaz, the Tillamook, the Ben & Jerry’s. All of a sudden, those smaller containers are the ones that are appealing.

Still, if you’re hosting a big dinner party, you’re likely to spring for those generic buckets of Kemp’s ice cream. There are benefits and drawbacks to each choice. In some situations, you will want to go for the specialized option, and in others, the generic will be a better solution.

This same mindset also pertains to hearing aids. Are newer over-the-counter hearing aids any good? Well, much like our ice cream example, it depends on what your goals are.

Hearing loss can have significant impacts

Your daily life can be significantly impacted by hearing loss. Social isolation that often accompanies hearing loss can cause you to abstain from having conversations because you can’t hear what people are saying.

This can make you feel removed from your family and friends. You even avoid the cashier at the supermarket. It’s lonely. And it can bring about a faster cognitive decline as you get older.

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

How do over-the-counter hearing aids work?

It isn’t hard to understand why individuals would want to move towards hearing aids that can be bought easily, given the health repercussions of hearing loss.

By their very nature, over-the-counter hearing aids are made to be convenient. Instead of going to see a hearing specialist and getting fitted for hearing aids, you just stroll into your local pharmacy. You’re on your way home as soon as you pick up and pay for these devices. Once you put them in, they function to boost the sound around you.

Your life can be profoundly and positively influenced by this.

In some instances over-the-counter hearing aids can do the job

In 2022 the Food and Drug Administration changed the rule about the sale of hearing aids that allowed stores like pharmacies to sell them. The idea was that if hearing aids were more easily available, you’d wind up with fewer people who had neglected hearing loss.

It’s never been difficult to purchase a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. Many people, unfortunately, feel intimidated by this process so they stay away from it. For people who aren’t quite ready to take the step, over-the-counter hearing aids can be a good option. 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 knowing when OTC hearing aids are a good fit (and when they aren’t).

How are OTC hearing aids different from prescription hearing aids?

As a general rule, prescription hearing aids are more powerful and have a lot more personalized features than OTC hearing aids. They will also not fit quite as well, and they won’t be personalized to your needs.

So, are over-the-counter hearing aids worthwhile at all? There actually can be some benefits to an OTC in particular situations. OTC hearing aids might be the best option if:

  • You have no plan to get your hearing test. (Some people never will, even though they definitely should.) An OTC hearing aid is typically better than no hearing aid at all.
  • You have very basic or early-stage hearing loss. For mild cases of hearing loss, these devices will work ok.
  • You’ve checked with your hearing specialist, and they recommend using an OTC hearing aid. (For best outcomes, ask your hearing specialist to go over settings and style types that might work best for you.)
  • You keep a pair around just in case your prescription hearing aids need to go in for repair.

Typically, OTC hearing aids are sold with certain presets already in place. If your hearing loss is in the lower wavelengths, some models will be the right choice and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other models will be the best option. (This is why it’s good to understand more about your own hearing loss before you buy any hearing aid, OTC or not).

When OTC hearing aids aren’t a practical solution

So are there negative aspects to OTC hearing aids? Are there adverse side effects of over-the-counter hearing aids?

Well every situation won’t include OTC hearing aids, let’s just say. In general, OTC hearing aids may not be the right solution for you if:

  • When you’re in challenging and noisy settings, you need to be able to hear. Depending on what surroundings you need to hear in and exactly what you’re listening to, prescription hearing aids can be personalized for those situations.
  • Is the money you spent really worth it if that OTC hearing aid is that much lower in power?
  • Your hearing aids don’t fit well. Sometimes, you might require something with a custom fit, which is only feasible with a prescription hearing aid.
  • Your hearing loss has progressed to a fairly severe stage. More severe cases of hearing loss will require a more powerful prescription hearing aid while mild cases may do fine with OTC hearing aids.
  • Exactly which hearing aid to purchase is still unknown to you: For some people who have hearing loss, the wrong hearing aids can actually damage their ears. (It’s not a lot different than if you crank your earbuds up to a really loud setting.)
  • You’re only thinking about OTC hearing aids because you think they cost a lot less. OTC hearing aids are often nearly as expensive as their prescription-only alternative.

What are the risks of over-the-counter hearing aids? You could be wasting good money and further damaging your ears by using OTC hearing aids if they’re not the best solution for your distinct hearing loss.

Either way, you should consult a hearing specialist

OTC hearing aids are suitable for some individuals and prescription hearing aids are a good fit for others. Whichever decision is best for your circumstance, your hearing aids will work better after you have an appointment with us.

You will be capable of getting better treatment when you know more about your hearing loss. We can help guide you toward the best hearing aid for your symptoms, whether it’s OTC or prescription.

We can also help you get the most out of your new technology.

If you believe you have hearing loss and want to find out if OTC hearing aids are the right choice for you, make 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.