Remember when you used to be able to get those gallon buckets of ice cream at the supermarket? As a kid, they were the best thing ever because they offered a whole gallon of ice cream, that’s a lot of frozen custard and high-fructose corn syrup!
But as you grow up, you begin to get a bit more specific. You start going for the more specialized ice cream: the Turkey Hill, the Tillamook, the Ben & Jerry’s. Those little containers begin to become more enticing.
Nevertheless, if you’re hosting a big dinner party, you’re likely to spring for those generic buckets of Kemp’s ice cream. There are benefits and drawbacks to each choice. In some circumstances, you will want to go with the specialized option, and in others, the generic will be a better solution.
Obviously, we’re also referring to hearing aids here. How effective are those new over-the-counter hearing aids? Well, it’s a lot like that ice cream: it depends on what your goals are.
Hearing loss can have serious impacts
Your daily life can be seriously impacted by hearing loss. Social solitude that often accompanies hearing loss can cause you to avoid having conversations because you’re unable to hear what people are saying.
This can make you feel removed from your family and friends. When you go to the store you use self-checkout so you can avoid the cashiers. It’s not a happy way to live. And as you age, your mental faculties can deteriorate faster.
So it isn’t just that you’re unable to hear what your family and friends are saying, but you could also be enhancing your risk of other potentially serious health issues.
How do over-the-counter hearing aids work?
Given the harm that hearing loss can lead to, it’s easy to recognize the appeal of hearing aids that are simple to buy.
By their 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 stroll into your local pharmacy. You’re going 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.
This can have a profoundly positive impact on your life.
In some cases 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 like pharmacies to sell them. The thinking was that if hearing aids were more conveniently available, you’d wind up with fewer people who had neglected hearing loss.
It’s never been hard to obtain a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. Many people, sadly, feel intimidated by this process so they avoid it. Over-the-counter hearing aids may not be a bad solution for individuals who just aren’t ready to make the leap. But over-the-counter hearing aids weren’t designed to replace their prescription counterparts.
But this means that some of the burden of understanding when over-the-counter hearing aids are or aren’t the right option lies with the consumer.
What’s the essential difference between over-the-counter and prescription hearing aids?
Generally speaking, OTC hearing aids aren’t quite as powerful, efficient, or personalized as prescription hearing aids. They will also not fit particularly as well, and they won’t be personalized to your needs.
So, are over-the-counter hearing aids worthwhile at all? There actually can be some benefits to an OTC in specific situations. An OTC hearing aid may work best for you if:
- You keep a set on hand just in case your prescription hearing aids need to go in for maintenance.
- You’re never going to get your hearing checked. (You absolutely should. But we also recognize that some individuals simply never will.) An OTC hearing aid is typically better than no hearing aid at all.
- Your hearing specialist is recommending an OTC. (For best outcomes, ask your hearing specialist to go over settings and style types that may work best for you.)
- You have very basic or early-stage hearing loss. These devices are great for very mild or moderate hearing loss.
It’s pretty common for OTC presets to be pre-programmed when you buy them. If your hearing loss is in the lower frequencies, some types will be best and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other designs will be the best choice. (This is why it’s good to understand more about your own hearing loss before you buy any hearing aid, OTC or not).
When OTC hearing aids aren’t a practical fit
So, what are the disadvantages of over-the-counter hearing aids? Are there adverse side effects of over-the-counter hearing aids?
Well, let’s just say that OTC hearing aids aren’t a good fit for everybody in every situation. Generally, OTC hearing aids may not be the right solution for you if:
- Your hearing loss has advanced to a fairly profound stage. While OTC hearing aids can be helpful for less significant hearing loss, profound hearing loss will require something more powerful and more refined.
- OTC hearing aids aren’t custom fit the way you might need them to be. A custom fit is sometimes necessary for some individuals and OTC hearing aids don’t allow this.
- Exactly which hearing aid to purchase is still unknown to you: For some individuals who have hearing loss, the wrong hearing aids can actually harm their ears. (It’s not a lot different than if you turn your earbuds up to a really loud volume.)
- You’re only considering OTC hearing aids because of perceived cost savings. Well, prescription hearing aids frequently don’t cost a great deal more than OTC hearing aids.
- You need to hear in challenging or noisy settings. Most prescription hearing aids can be personalized depending on what you need to hear and where you need to hear it.
- A less expensive hearing aid that does not adequately treat your hearing loss probably isn’t worth the money you paid for it.
What are the risks of over-the-counter hearing aids? In general, if you aren’t a good fit for OTC hearing aids, you could be throwing some money away or making your hearing loss worse.
Consult a hearing specialist either way
OTC hearing aids are suitable for some people and prescription hearing aids are the best choice for others. But either way, making an appointment can help your hearing aids work better.
You will be able to get better treatment once you understand more about your hearing loss. We can help steer you toward the best hearing aid for your symptoms, whether it’s OTC or prescription.
We can also help you get the most out of your new technology.
Schedule an appointment with us so we can help you determine what hearing aid type is best for you.