Over-the-counter hearing aids mean you have more options than ever. Here's how to find the perfect pair.
Last August, hearing aids finally became available over the counter -- meaning they can be purchased at your local drugstore without a prescription or trip to the doctor. They're more affordable than traditional hearing aids too, costing as little as 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'll take a little more legwork on your part to ensure you're getting the right OTC hearing aid for you and your lifestyle. Here's everything you need to know.
Hearing aids can be helpful for people who were born with hearing loss or who have found their hearing decreasing either from age or any other number of reasons. While temporary hearing loss can happen to anyone -- and can usually be remedied with medical treatment -- permanent hearing loss can be treated by hearing aids.
Over-the-counter hearing aids are becoming more and more popular due to their affordability factor and the ease of getting them. Laurie Hanin, Ph.D., CCC-A, 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 may sound like it makes it easier to grab one of these devices, she points out that that also means these hearing aids aren't quite as personalized.
"As a generalization, custom aids are more likely to have a wider variety of features and sophisticated technology than OTC aids. Some of these may be important for an individual user," she said.
"A custom aid will always be selected after a hearing test, and the specific device chosen by your audiologist or dispenser will be one that is considered to be the best for your needs. It will then be programmed to specifically fit your hearing loss and hearing needs," Hanin added.
OTC hearing aids can be purchased easily online, though you can also find them at your local drugstore. Audiologist Dr. Sarah Lundstrom, who is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology, a member of the Florida Academy of Audiology and a board-certified member of the American Board of Audiology, warns, though, that shopping for your OTC hearing aids can go wrong if you're not super cautious.
"Most online or mail-in hearing aids do not come with services or follow-up care," she says. "When purchasing with a professional, you typically get a warranty and follow-up services to enhance your success." That doesn't mean you can't purchase your hearing aids over the counter and then see an audiologist for further care -- which Lundstrom advises.
Benefits of over-the-counter:
Factors to consider:
Over-the-counter hearing aids aren't for everyone -- the FDA regulates them a bit differently from prescription hearing aids, and they're not recommended for severe hearing loss or for anyone under the age of 18. If you have mild to moderate hearing loss and you're an adult, here's how to select the right hearing aid for you.
There are four main silhouettes of hearing aids: behind-the-ear, receiver in the canal, in-the-ear and completely in the canal. You can select 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.
Because OTC hearing aids are a little less powerful and a little less exact than custom hearing aids, they're better suited for mild to moderate hearing loss. There are different styles of hearing aids that vary in the level of hearing loss they work for, so it's important to look at that before you make a selection. Behind-the-ear hearing aids and in-ear hearing aids pretty much all work for moderate hearing loss, but if your hearing loss is a little more severe, the hearing aids that sit fully inside the ear tend to actually be the least powerful.
OTC hearing aids tend to be more cost-effective than prescription hearing aids, especially if you don't have health insurance. OTC aids can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, whereas prescription ones can be thousands. You can likely find hearing aids at a variety of price points, but Lundstrom advises people to be cautious about finding anything too cheap.
"Sometimes less expansive means you are not getting the same quality of product, either lower technology level or defeatured technology," she said.
Some OTC hearing aids are equipped with Bluetooth technology to connect to your phone or other electronic devices, which can be helpful if that's something you're looking for.
Not all hearing aids are created equal. Some are designed to be water-resistant, and some are more durable than others. Choose a hearing aid that will suit your lifestyle -- which means thinking about your daily activities. If you work out a lot, you might want a durable hearing aid that's water-resistant to sweat and heat.
Take a look at all the features OTC hearing aids offer while making your choice on which is for you. Consider battery life, sound quality, etc. If you have more severe hearing loss, you'll want hearing aids that perhaps reduce more background noise than others. If you're often on the go, you probably want hearing aids with a 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 points out, purchasing hearing aids online from a resale market (she said you can find plenty on eBay) will likely void the warranty or trial. Instead, try to purchase the hearing aids directly from a retailer or brand that offers a warranty or trial.
One of the biggest drawbacks that Hanin points out with OTC hearing aids is that you're largely going about the process by yourself. Because you're likely not working with an audiologist during this process, you want to select hearing aids from a company or store with reliable customer service. That way, if you have concerns with your purchase, you don't have to worry about getting help.
Some hearing aids require more maintenance than others, whether it's the frequency that you have to clean them or change batteries. If you don't want to mess with that too much, seek out hearing aids that have a longer battery life, or ones that won't need to be cleaned as often. Some hearing aid styles are more prone to collecting ear wax and buildup, so take note of that during your selection process.
Though it's not required to see an audiologist or get a hearing test for an OTC hearing aid, Hanin suggests seeing one anyway. "In my opinion, no one should choose to buy an OTC hearing aid without getting a hearing test and seeing an audiologist," she said. "The audiologist should then be able to help guide you to the kind of OTC aid to consider. If one has purchased an OTC aid on their own but then wants assistance, many audiologists would be willing to provide the assistance for a fee. However, many will require a hearing test to work with a user."
If nothing else, you should see an audiologist if you've tried to get an OTC hearing aid and you're still having hearing loss, or you feel like your hearing aid isn't providing the assistance you need. A doctor can address your hearing loss and help you figure out the best way forward.