On August 17, following rounds of feedback on the regulations that should be in place before over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids could be sold to the public, the FDA announced its final approval of hearing aids in this category.
OTC hearing aids are a type of hearing aid that can be purchased without a prescription from a licensed audiologist or hearing healthcare professional. OTC hearing aids are regulated by the FDA and are required to meet certain safety and performance standards. They will be available in stores in mid-October.
As an audiologist, I believe OTC hearing aids have advantages and disadvantages, depending on the wearer. Below, I’ll discuss what these are so that you can see if this is the best investment you can make for your hearing.
The Benefits of OTC Hearing Aids
There are a few reasons why the idea of OTC hearing aids is popular.
First, the price of OTC hearing aids is typically much lower than the price of traditional hearing aids, making them more affordable for many people, although at an expected price of approx. $800, they are still unaffordable for many.
Second, OTC hearing aids will be on the shelves of most stores and in online stores, making them very easy to purchase. You won’t even need to tell anyone you can’t hear as well as you’d like to because you can treat it yourself.
Third, people who suspect they might have a hearing loss don’t need a prescription from a hearing specialist – they can buy an OTC hearing aid instantly. This works well for those who believe they know exactly what they need because they found information about it on the internet….
Why People Are Hesitant about Buying an OTC
The general consensus so far, according to an ASHA poll of 2,030 adults, is that about 85% of people would rather have a hearing prescription from a hearing specialist for a hearing aid that has all the features they need, along with professional support post purchase.
About 45% of them said they would rather have a hearing professional give their recommendations before purchasing an OTC, and they would also want that professional to program their OTC.
- Because they are not fitted by a professional, the consumer has to do everything: guess their degree of hearing loss, adjust and program the settings themselves, try to get it to sit right without falling off the ear or out of the ear canal, and figure out what to do when they need
- OTC hearing aids are currently not covered by insurance or financing plans, so people will need to pay for them out-of-pocket. As mentioned earlier, $800 is not a small amount of money.
Also, there are many hearing devices available in stores already that are not officially categorized as OTCs. Make sure that the OTC hearing aids you research are FDA-approved.
There are a few risks to be aware of when considering OTC hearing aids:
- Because no hearing evaluation is required, you might buy an OTC hearing aid that only treats a milder level of hearing loss than you have. Most people overestimate their ability to hear, and OTCs don’t treat severe hearing loss.
- Only a professional hearing evaluation will diagnose the cause of your hearing loss correctly and make sure those causes are treated first, such as earwax buildup removal or treatment of a previously undiagnosed medical condition.
- OTCs only provide basic hearing help and do not come with the multiple features of prescription hearing aids, such as tinnitus management, background noise filters, and assistive listening mics.
- All an OTC purchase gives you is a hearing device. There are no follow-up discussions, customer support, or ongoing hearing care appointments to make sure your hearing stays as healthy as possible.
- You might damage your hearing further by setting the volume too loud.
Despite these risks, OTC hearing aids can be a great option for many people who are looking for a slightly more affordable way to improve their hearing and who only have a mild to moderate hearing loss.
However, the only way to avoid the risks mentioned above is to have a professional hearing assessment and get their recommendation on the hearing device that best fits your needs.
Before Purchasing OTCs
When you visit a hearing clinic like All About Hearing, the first thing the audiologist or hearing healthcare professional will do is conduct a hearing test. We will also take a look at your medical history and ask about any other health conditions you may have that could affect your hearing.
This will help us determine the severity of your hearing loss and what’s causing it. You’ll get a medical referral if one is needed, and if you have an ear infection or earwax buildup, we can treat that here.
Once we have assessed all of your data, we can give you our recommendation based on your hearing needs, lifestyle, and budget, and after treatment begins, we’ll be here for the long term too, in the form of ongoing hearing care and treatment adjustments.
Schedule a hearing test with All About Hearing, and call us with any questions about your own hearing care needs or those of a loved one.
The type of hearing aid that would be best for you might well be an OTC hearing aid, but only a hearing specialist will know what’s optimal.