Last year, hearing aids finally became available over the counter, meaning they can be purchased at your local pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription or visit. They are also more affordable than traditional hearing aids, costing just a few hundred dollars instead of thousands.
But there’s a lot you need to know about over-the-counter hearing aids before you place an order. They may be easy to get, but it will take a little more work on your part to make sure you get the right over-the-counter hearing aid for you and your lifestyle. Here’s everything you need to know.
Who is suitable for a hearing aid?
Hearing aids can be helpful for people who were born with hearing loss or who have found that their hearing is declining due to age or other reasons. Although temporary hearing loss can happen to anyone—and can usually be fixed with medical treatment—permanent hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids.
Signs of hearing loss
- Ask people to repeat themselves often
- Difficulty understanding some letters of the alphabet
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- They struggle to distinguish voices in crowds
- Slurred speech due to inability to hear yourself
- Listen to music louder than before
- Discomfort in social settings because you can’t keep conversations going
Should you get your hearing aids over the counter?
Over-the-counter hearing aids are becoming increasingly popular due to their affordability factor and ease of obtaining them. Lori Hanin, executive director at the Center for Hearing and Communication, notes that one of the biggest things people need to know about OTC hearing aids is that they don’t require a hearing test. While that might sound like it makes it easier to get hold of one of these devices, she points out that it also means these hearing aids aren’t as customizable.
“In summary, custom aids are more likely to have a greater variety of features and advanced technology than OTC aids. Some of them may be important to an individual user,” Hanin said. “An individual aid will always be chosen following a hearing test and the particular device selected by your audiologist or dispatcher will be what is considered best for your needs. It will then be programmed to specifically suit your hearing loss and hearing needs.”
Over-the-counter hearing aids can be easily purchased online, but you can also find them at your local pharmacy. However, Sara Lundstrom, who is a board-certified member of the American Board of Audiology, warns that shopping for your OTC hearing aids can go awry if you’re not super careful.
“Most hearing aids online or by mail don’t come with service or aftercare,” she says. “When you buy from a professional, you usually get a warranty and follow-up services to improve your success.” That doesn’t mean you can’t buy your hearing aids over the counter and then see an audiologist for follow-up care—which Lundstrom advises.
Advantages of over the counter:
- Easy to buy online and in stores
- Usually more affordable than custom units
Factors to consider:
- They are not personalized — they are not made to meet your specific hearing needs
- No professional help in choosing
Choosing the best OTC hearing aid for you
Over-the-counter hearing aids aren’t for everyone – The Food and Drug Administration regulates them a little differently than prescription hearing aids, and they’re not recommended for severe hearing loss or for anyone under the age of 18. you have mild to moderate hearing loss and are an adult, here’s how to choose the right hearing aid for you.
There are four basic hearing aid silhouettes: behind-the-ear, in-the-canal, in-the-ear, and all-in-the-canal. You can choose the design you like based on your lifestyle and the aesthetic you want. Behind-the-ear hearing aids are the most visible, but also the most durable.
Degree of hearing loss
Because over-the-counter hearing aids are slightly less powerful and slightly less accurate than custom hearing aids, they are better suited for mild to moderate hearing loss. There are different styles of hearing aids that differ in the level of hearing loss they work for, so it’s important to look into this before making a choice. Behind-the-ear hearing aids and in-the-ear hearing aids almost all work for moderate hearing loss, but if your hearing loss is a bit more severe, fully in-the-ear hearing aids are actually the least powerful.
Over-the-counter hearing aids are usually more cost-effective than prescription hearing aids, especially if you don’t have health insurance. Over-the-counter aids can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, while prescription ones can be in the thousands. You can probably find hearing aids at a variety of price points, but Lundstrom advises people to be careful about finding something too cheap.
“Sometimes less expansive means you’re not getting the same quality of product, whether it’s a lower technology level or a failed technology,” she said.
Some over-the-counter hearing aids are equipped with Bluetooth technology to connect to your phone or other electronic devices, which can be useful if that’s something you’re looking for.
Not all hearing aids are created equal. Some are designed to be waterproof and some are more durable than others. Choose a hearing aid that fits your lifestyle — which means thinking about your daily activities. If you exercise a lot, you may want a durable hearing aid that’s sweat- and heat-resistant.
Explore all the features that over-the-counter hearing aids offer as you choose which one is right for you. Consider battery life, sound quality, etc. If you have more severe hearing loss, you’ll want hearing aids that may reduce background noise more than others. If you’re on the go a lot, you probably want hearing aids with longer battery life that you won’t have to deal with as often.
It’s important to look for hearing aids with warranties or risk-free trials; that way you have some leeway to try them out and return them if they’re not what you need. As Lundstrom notes, buying hearing aids online from a resale market (she said you can find many on eBay) will likely void the warranty or trial period. Instead, try buying the hearing aids directly from a retailer or brand that offers a warranty or trial.
Helpful customer service
One of the biggest drawbacks Hanin points out with over-the-counter hearing aids is that you’re pretty much doing the process yourself. Since you likely won’t be working with an audiologist during this process, you want to choose hearing aids from a company or store with reliable customer service. That way, if you have any concerns about your purchase, you don’t have to worry about getting help.
Some hearing aids require more maintenance than others, whether it’s how often you need to clean them or change the batteries. If you don’t want to mess with this too much, look for hearing aids with longer battery life or ones that don’t need to be cleaned as often. Certain styles of hearing aids are more prone to earwax collection and build-up, so take this into consideration during the selection process.
When to see a doctor
While you don’t have to see an audiologist or get a hearing test for an over-the-counter hearing aid, Hanin does suggest seeing one. “I don’t think anyone should choose to buy an OTC hearing aid without getting a hearing test and seeing an audiologist,” she said. “Then the audiologist should be able to help you choose the type of OTC aid to consider. If someone has purchased an OTC aid on their own but then wants help, many audiologists would be willing to provide the help for a fee. However, many will require a hearing test to work with a user.”
If anything, you should see an audiologist if you’ve tried an over-the-counter hearing aid and still have hearing loss or feel your hearing aid isn’t providing the help you need. A doctor can address your hearing loss and help you figure out the best way forward.