Hearing Health Blog

Pharmacy drugstore blur abstract background with medicine and over the counter hearing aids on shelves

Do you remember those gallon buckets of ice cream you used to find at grocery stores? As a kid, they were awesome because they promised an entire gallon of ice cream, that’s a lot of frozen custard and high-fructose corn syrup!

But as you get older, you start to get a little more specific. You start opting for the more specialized ice cream: the Turkey Hill, the Tillamook, the Ben & Jerry’s. Those smaller containers start to become more enticing.

Still, if you’re hosting a big dinner party, you’re likely to go for those generic Kemp’s ice cream buckets. There are pros and cons to each choice. In some scenarios, you will want to go for the specialized selection, and in others, the generic will be a better solution.

Of course, we’re also discussing hearing aids here. Are new over-the-counter hearing aids any good? Well, it’s much like that ice cream: it depends on what your goals are.

There can be real negative effects from hearing loss

Hearing loss can have a significant impact on your day-to-day activities. Social isolation that frequently accompanies hearing loss can cause you to avoid having conversations because you can’t hear what others are saying.

This can make you feel removed from your family and friends. You even avoid the cashier at the supermarket. It’s not a happy way to live. And it can cause a faster cognitive decline as you get older.

So it’s not just that you can’t hear what your family and friends are saying, but you could also be increasing your risk of other potentially serious health problems.

Over-the-counter hearing aids – how they function

Given the harm that hearing loss can lead to, it’s easy to recognize the appeal of hearing aids that are easy to buy.

By their very nature, over-the-counter hearing aids are made to be convenient. You just walk into your local pharmacy and you never need to make an appointment with a hearing specialist. You pick up a pair of these devices, pay for them, and go home. Once you put them in, they work to amplify the sound around you.

This can have a profoundly positive affect on your life.

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

In 2022 the Food and Drug Administration changed the rule about the distribution of hearing aids that allowed stores like pharmacies to sell them. The rule change aimed at getting hearing aids to more individuals who really need them for their untreated hearing loss.

It’s never been difficult to obtain a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. Many individuals, regrettably, feel intimidated by this process so they avoid it. For individuals who aren’t quite ready to make that leap, over-the-counter hearing aids could be a good substitute. But prescription hearing aids were not meant to be replaced by over-the-counter models.

But this means that some of the burden of understanding when over-the-counter hearing aids are or aren’t the best option lies with the consumer.

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 won’t be personalized to your particular requirements and they won’t fit as well.

So is there anything helpful or positive about OTC hearing aids? Well, yes, in some situations. An OTC hearing aid might work best for you if:

  • You want a spare set to use for emergencies.
  • Your hearing specialist is suggesting an OTC. (For best results, ask your hearing specialist to address settings and style types that may work best for you.)
  • Your hearing loss is in the early stages and is very simple. These devices are great for really mild or moderate hearing loss.
  • You’re never going to get your hearing checked. (You really should. But we also understand that some individuals just never will.) An OTC hearing aid is typically better than no hearing aid at all.

It’s pretty typical for OTC presets to be pre-programmed when you get them. If your hearing loss is in the lower frequencies, some models will be the right choice and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other designs will be the best choice. (So before you purchase a hearing aid, you should definitely get a better concept of your level and type of hearing loss.).

OTC hearing aids are frequently not the best option

So are there downsides to OTC hearing aids? Will you experience undesirable effects from OTC hearing aids?

Well, let’s just say that OTC hearing aids aren’t a great fit for everybody in every circumstance. In general, OTC hearing aids may not be the right solution for you if:

  • You need to hear in complex or noisy environments. Most prescription hearing aids can be personalized depending on what you need to hear and where you need to hear it.
  • You think OTC hearing aids will save you a lot of money. Well, prescription hearing aids frequently don’t cost a great deal more than OTC hearing aids.
  • OTC hearing aids aren’t custom fit the way you might need them to be. A custom fit is frequently necessary for some people and OTC hearing aids don’t allow this.
  • A less expensive hearing aid that does not sufficiently manage your hearing loss probably isn’t worth the money you paid for it.
  • Your hearing loss has advanced to a fairly severe stage. While OTC hearing aids can be good for mild and moderate hearing loss, profound hearing loss will require something more powerful and more refined.
  • You don’t know exactly which hearing aid to purchase: For some people who have hearing loss, the wrong hearing aids can actually damage their ears. (It’s comparable to wearing really loud earbuds.)

Are there any risks that come with OTC hearing aids? You could be wasting good money and doing more damage to your ears by using OTC hearing aids if they’re not the best solution for your specific hearing loss.

Either way, you should consult a hearing specialist

For some people, OTC hearing aids will be fine, but for others, prescription hearing aids will be appropriate. But either way, scheduling an appointment can help your hearing aids work better.

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

Similarly, we can help you better adapt to a new pair of hearing aids, and get the most out of the technology.

Make an appointment with us so we can help you figure out what hearing aid type is best for you.

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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.
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