Remember when you used to be able to find those gallon buckets of ice cream at the grocery store? A whole gallon of ice cream, yum!
But you start to become more particular in your taste as you mature. You start going for the more specialized ice cream: the Haagen-Daaz, the Tillamook, the Ben & Jerry’s. Those smaller containers begin 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 situations, you will want to go for the specialized selection, and in others, the generic will be the best choice.
This same mindset also applies to hearing aids. How effective are those new over-the-counter hearing aids? Well, much like our ice cream illustration, it depends on what your goals are.
Hearing loss can have significant affects
Hearing loss can have a considerable effect on your day-to-day activities. Social isolation that often 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. When you go to the supermarket you use self-checkout so you can steer clear of the cashiers. It’s not a happy way to live. And as you age, your mental faculties can decline faster.
So it’s not just that you’re unable to hear what your family and friends are saying, but you could also be increasing your chances of other potentially serious health problems.
How do over-the-counter hearing aids function?
It’s not difficult to understand why people would want to move towards hearing aids that can be purchased easily, given the health repercussions of hearing loss.
By their very nature, over-the-counter hearing aids are designed to be convenient. Instead of going to see a hearing specialist and getting fitted for hearing aids, you just go into your local pharmacy. You’re on your way home right after you pick up and pay for these devices. Once they’re in your ears, they function to boost the sound around you.
Your life can be greatly and positively impacted by this.
In some circumstances 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 including pharmacies to sell them. The idea was that if hearing aids were more easily available, you’d wind up with fewer people who had neglected hearing loss.
It’s never been difficult to purchase a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. And sometimes, that process can cause people to stay away. For individuals who aren’t quite ready to take the step, over-the-counter hearing aids may be a good option. But over-the-counter hearing aids were never manufactured to take the place of their prescription counterparts.
But this means that some of the burden of understanding when over-the-counter hearing aids are or aren’t the best choice lies with the individual.
What’s the difference between over-the-counter and prescription hearing aids?
As a general rule, prescription hearing aids are more powerful and have a lot more customizable functions than OTC hearing aids. They will also not fit quite as well, and they won’t be personalized to your needs.
So is there anything useful or beneficial about OTC hearing aids? There actually can be some advantages to an OTC in specific circumstances. An OTC hearing aid may work best for you if:
- You’re never going to get a hearing test. (You absolutely should. But we also understand that some people just never will.) Usually, using an OTC hearing aid will be better than using nothing.
- You keep a set on hand just in case your prescription hearing aids need to go in for repair.
- You have really basic or early-stage hearing loss. For mild instances of hearing loss, these devices will work ok.
- Your hearing specialist is suggesting an OTC. (Hopefully, your hearing specialist will even recommend which style or type, and what settings will work best.)
Usually, OTC hearing aids are sold with specific presets already in place. If your hearing loss is in the lower wavelengths, some models will be the right choice and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other designs will be the best option. (This is why it’s good to know more about your own hearing loss before you buy any hearing aid, OTC or not).
OTC hearing aids are frequently not the ideal choice
So, what are the drawbacks to over-the-counter hearing aids? Will you experience unwanted effects from OTC hearing aids?
Well, let’s just say that OTC hearing aids aren’t a good fit for everyone in every circumstance. Generally, OTC hearing aids might not be the right solution for you if:
- You don’t know exactly which hearing aid to buy: The wrong hearing aids can actually make your hearing worse for somebody who has hearing loss. (It’s not much different than if you turn your earbuds up to a really loud volume.)
- Is the money you spent really worth it if that OTC hearing aid isn’t effective in treating your hearing loss?
- Your hearing loss has advanced to a fairly severe stage. More severe cases of hearing loss will require a more powerful prescription hearing aid while mild cases may do fine with OTC hearing aids.
- You believe OTC hearing aids will save you a lot of money. OTC hearing aids are often almost as expensive as their prescription-only alternative.
- Your hearing aids don’t fit well. A custom fit is sometimes necessary for some people and OTC hearing aids don’t allow this.
- When you’re in challenging and noisy settings, you need to be able to hear. Depending on what settings you need to hear in and exactly what you’re listening to, prescription hearing aids can be customized for those situations.
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 distinct hearing loss.
Consult a hearing specialist either way
For some people, OTC hearing aids will be okay, but for others, prescription hearing aids will be needed. Whichever decision is best for your circumstance, your hearing aids will work better after you get an appointment with us.
That’s because knowing more about your hearing loss will help you find a better treatment. We can help guide you toward the best hearing aid for your symptoms, whether it’s OTC or prescription.
In the same way, we can help you better adjust to a new set of hearing aids, and get the most out of the technology.
Make an appointment with us so we can help you find out what hearing aid type is right for you.