What to Know About Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

Now that over-the-counter hearing aids are available nationwide, millions of Americans experiencing hearing loss are wondering: “Are they right for me?”

In 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids available for sale without a prescription or medical exam. These hearing aids are available both in stores and online.

Though greater access will help many who have mild to moderate hearing loss, treatment is still important. It can improve a person’s mental health, cognitive function, and overall quality of life.

Also, OTC hearing aids aren’t always the best fit for everyone. Hearing aids fitting everyone isn’t something anyone should expect.

If you have questions about your eligibility for OTC hearing aids, talk to an audiologist.

If you’re among the 15% of American adults with some level of hearing loss, here’s what to know about OTC hearing aids.

What Are OTC Hearing Aids?

Hearing aids are devices worn in or behind the ear canal to help relieve symptoms of hearing loss. They do this by making the sounds the wearer hears louder. In some cases, you can purchase hearing aids without a prescription.

Only some people who live with hearing loss seek intervention. That’s according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

These aids can help adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. But they can’t help children or adults with severe hearing loss or ear problems.

In the past, only licensed audiologists and other providers such as hearing instrument specialists could issue hearing aids. They would only do this after testing for a person’s level of hearing loss.

Those with mild to moderate hearing loss may find softer sounds hard to hear. They may also strain to hear others speak in loud settings.

Some people with severe hearing loss may find hearing others difficult, even in quiet settings. Others may find they can only hear very loud noises.

Now, people interested in purchasing an OTC hearing aid have their choice of self-fitting traditional and wireless devices. These devices may now come with volume control, presets, and smartphone apps.

These devices are air-conduction hearing aids. This means they can make sounds louder without any need to implant them in the ear. They can also sometimes offer hearing loss self-assessments.

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How Do OTC Hearing Aids Differ from Prescription Aids?

A licensed audiologist fits prescription hearing aids for you. They can also adjust them based on your degree of hearing loss.

These custom devices can be used by people of all ages and with varying degrees of hearing loss.

OTC hearing aids come in generic sizes, so you can’t alter them. Those with mild to moderate hearing loss can buy them in stores and online. They don’t need a doctor’s appointment to do this.

However, meeting with an audiologist for an exam and recommendation before purchasing an OTC hearing aid is still a good idea. Prescription devices are also still necessary for:

  • Anyone with serious hearing loss. OTC hearing aids have their limits.
  • Anyone younger than 18 years old. Children and teens should first meet with a specialist.
  • Those whose hearing issues may require further medical treatment, such as anyone experiencing ear pain or discomfort.

OTC hearing devices are like many prescription aids in some ways. They also make sounds louder and filter out certain types of noise. This makes it easier for adults to participate in the world around them.

These aids can’t “cure” hearing loss but can improve a person’s hearing and communication.

Neither prescription nor OTC hearing aids are like the personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) sold at drugstores. The FDA doesn’t regulate PSAPs. PSAPs can’t treat individual hearing loss.

Securing a prescription hearing aid can get expensive when factoring in the price of the exam, the fitting, and the device. OTC devices cost an average of $1,600 per pair, according to a National Council on Aging report.

This can mean thousands of dollars in savings compared to prescription aids.

A professional can help you choose the most appropriate option.

Should I Buy Hearing Aids Over the Counter?

Untreated hearing loss can trigger or worsen social isolation, depression, and anxiety. It can also limit movement and impair cognitive ability.

Adults who believe they have mild or moderate hearing loss may benefit from an OTC hearing aid. Symptoms of mild or moderate hearing loss include:

  • Asking others to slow down their speech, talk louder, or repeat themselves.
  • Frequently keeping the TV or radio volume higher than others do.
  • Muffled speech or sounds, particularly in groups, noisy areas, or while talking on the phone.

If you struggle to hear conversations in quiet settings, you may suffer from more severe hearing loss. In this case, you should consult an audiologist before moving forward with any over-the-counter treatments.

Hearing loss is a possible symptom of an underlying condition requiring specialized care. Using an OTC device without any professional expertise can further complicate existing issues.

You should see a licensed professional if you:

  • Encounter severe dizziness that accompanies hearing loss.
  • Experience ear pain or discomfort.
  • Have a birth defect or injury affecting your hearing.
  • Have hearing loss in only one ear.
  • Have known or suspected conditions that may affect hearing.
  • Have sudden or worsening hearing loss.
  • Have used OTC hearing aids for several months without improvement.
  • Hear ringing or buzzing in one or both ears.
  • May have excessive earwax buildup or something stuck in your ear canal.
  • Observe blood, fluid, or pus in or around your ear.

How to Choose the Best OTC Hearing Aid for You

The options for OTC hearing aids can seem countless. The National Council on Aging advises people to take caution and read package labeling carefully before buying them.

Some manufacturers may target consumers with false or misleading claims. Talking with a healthcare provider or even a store pharmacist is best in most cases. This way, they can give you recommendations about OTC hearing devices.

Here are a few of the National Council on Aging’s quality-control tips for researching OTC hearing aids:

  • Avoid products with unsubstantiated claims. These can include language suggesting a device can “cure” hearing loss or provide instant relief from symptoms.
  • Make sure the company you’re buying from offers accessible customer support and product warranties.
  • Research trusted companies that sell clearly labeled FDA-registered or FDA-cleared hearing aids. Avoid unknown brand names with few reviews.
  • Stay aware that OTC hearing aids with leading technology like Bluetooth streaming and hands-free calls will usually cost at least $800 to $1,000 per pair. Meet any product claiming to support these features at rock-bottom prices with skepticism.
  • Stay wary of misleading or vague product descriptions. Avoid purchasing any personal sound amplification device whose marketing suggests it’s a hearing aid when it’s not.

Quick Statistics About Hearing, Balance, & Dizziness. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Link.

OTC Hearing Aids: What You Should Know. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Link.

Only 1 in 6 Americans with Hearing Loss Wears Hearing Aids — Here's Why. National Council on Aging. Link.

6 Best Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids of 2024. National Council on Aging. Link.

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