Choosing between the three main types of over-the-counter hearing aids can be difficult. Deciding what your needs are makes it easy.
If you've noticed your hearing has gotten worse or have to blare the TV just to hear it, you may be considering an over-the-counter hearing aid, which you can now purchase online. OTC hearing aids are available for adults with varying levels of hearing loss. And now you have more options than just the traditional options. Some are so small that you can't see them at all. But how do you choose between the different styles on the market? Below, we'll go through each and discern who they're best for.
Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Buying Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids
Regardless of your style, hearing aids generally work the same way. The goal is always to amplify sounds while filtering out certain types of noise to improve hearing and communication.
Hearing aids do this with three components -- a microphone, amplifier and speaker. The microphones on the device intake sound from the environment. Then it goes to a computer chip with an amplifier that takes sound and converts it to a digital code, which the hearing aid then adjusts to your needs. Then the device converts the signals to sound waves and delivers them through the speaker into your ear.
Read more: How Hearing Aids Work
While you aren't required to visit with an ENT doctor or audiologist before purchasing over-the-counter hearing aids, it's generally still a good idea to have a hearing assessment if it's available for you. Many OTC hearing aid brands offer online hearing tests but will not physically address your ear.
Meeting with an audiologist for a full hearing assessment can rule out hearing loss due to medical conditions and ensure you fully understand your communication needs. Over-the-counter hearing aids are best suited for those with mild or moderate hearing loss.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, OTC hearing aids are not intended for children or adults with severe hearing loss.
There are generally three main categories of hearing aid styles -- behind-the-ear, in-the-ear and in-the-canal. Under each of these, there can be subcategories that also vary by fit and price. Let's go through the benefits and things to consider for each category so you can find the best choice for your hearing needs.
When you think of hearing aids, you're probably picturing behind-the-ear models, which have the device sitting on the back of the ear, a thin wire that wraps around the ear with a dome that fits into the canal. This type of hearing aid can address most degrees of hearing loss.
There are also behind-the-ear hearing aids that don't have a wire and dome that fit into the canal. Instead, they have a tube that carries sound into the ear.
This style of hearing aid reminds me of Bluetooth headphones. They sit in the ear, but you can still see them from the side. The larger models will fill the outer ear and are very light, so they don't press down on your ear.
Similar to in-the-ear hearing aids, this style is the most discreet and often the most expensive because of the need for specialized technology to fit the side. Under the in-the-canal umbrella, there are two main types -- in-the-canal and completely-in-canal. Both are discreet and often go unnoticed.
The over-the-counter hearing aid market has special features that many prescription options don't have, like Bluetooth capabilities. However, you should always consider these four main factors when choosing which hearing aid is best for you.
OTC hearing aids don't require a prescription or a doctor's appointment to purchase. While this makes them more accessible, you don't necessarily have a doctor's expertise to lean on when purchasing. The good news is that nearly all OTC hearing aid manufacturers offer a trial period that allows you to test the hearing aid and return them if they don't meet your needs. This is great if you aren't sure which style you want to use.
During this trial period, many companies offer calls and video chats with hearing specialists to assist in setting up and fitting your hearing aids.
Most insurance companies don't cover purchasing over-the-counter hearing aids, though you should check your coverage to see if yours does. Coverage varies, though most insurance companies currently only cover prescription hearing aids. However, the OTC market is new, and this may change.
Over-the-counter hearing aids vary in price depending on the style and features of the device. The prices can range from as affordable as $300 up to $3,000. The price tag isn't always indicative of functionality. Instead, it tells you what type of hardware, quality and additional functionalities like Bluetooth or directional hearing you're getting. You can get great hearing aids on the lower end of the scale, they might just not be as flashy as other options.
Some over-the-counter hearing aids are expensive, and your budget matters. But that doesn't mean that you can't get your desired device. Many OTC hearing aid brands offer monthly financing programs that can bring down luxury options into your price range.
Over-the-counter hearing aids are suited for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. Those with severe hearing loss are more likely to need a doctor's support to address their communication needs.
Over-the-counter hearing aids are a relatively new idea, and with new things come new technology capabilities. Many of the best OTC hearing aids have mobile apps that allow you to adjust the volume and sound filtering setting of your hearing aids. Some people love the idea of being able to adjust from their phones. However, other people prefer to adjust the volume from their devices.
Most of the over-the-ear hearing aids that we've tested have volume up and down buttons that everyone can recognize. In-ear and in-canal hearing aids often aren't as straightforward when adjusting your hearing experience. Some don't have buttons and are completely dependent on the app.
The over-the-counter hearing aid market is flourishing, with new features and advances happening regularly. Which hearing aid style is best for you is largely dependent on your preferences. Choose in-the-ear or in-canal hearing options for a more discreet hearing experience. However, these tend to be the most expensive of the three.
There are many things to consider when buying an OTC hearing aid. But your option is out there.