Have You Heard About Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids?Apr 18, 2023 11:30AM ● By George Lindley, Ph.D., Au.D., East Penn Hearing Center
In August of 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized rules regarding over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. Somewhat analogous to reading glasses, you may have seen these devices online or at pharmacies and big-box retailers. OTC hearing aids are designed to be used by adults with self-perceived mild to moderate hearing loss. A child with suspected hearing loss should always undergo a medical evaluation and hearing testing before any hearing aid is used. OTC hearing aids can be purchased without the need for a hearing test and are typically, though not always, less expensive than the prescribed hearing aids. These devices may provide benefits for certain individuals with mild hearing difficulty in daily life.
OTC hearing aids come in a variety of styles and price points ranging from under $100 a set to several thousand a pair. Similar to prescribed hearing aids, some fit entirely in the ear and others are worn behind the ear. They also come with varying abilities to customize the settings based on the user’s needs. Some are basically amplifiers with a pre-set frequency response geared for high-frequency hearing loss, while more expensive versions may include features such as Bluetooth capability and noise reduction. All OTC hearing aids are required to limit the maximum output to minimize the risk of further hearing damage.
When considering OTC hearing aids, make sure you understand any return policy and the amount and quality of customer support that may be available. All hearing devices require some degree of maintenance and cleaning for optimal performance. Individuals with more severe hearing loss will likely receive suboptimal benefits given the volume and power limitations of these devices. Individuals with small or narrow ear canals may experience discomfort or “whistling” if the device cannot be placed properly in the ear canal.
As an audiologist who has worked with hearing aids and hearing loss for many years, I recommend that anyone with perceived hearing loss get their hearing tested. This is important for ruling out medical conditions (e.g, ear wax, fluid behind the eardrum) that may be causing the hearing loss. You would also know the degree of hearing loss and whether or not you would be a candidate for OTC hearing aids instead of prescribed hearing aids. Certain “red flag” conditions, such as more hearing loss in one ear than the other, tinnitus or noises in one ear, ear pain or discharge, vertigo, etc., should be medically evaluated before considering any type of hearing aid. Hearing tests are typically covered by insurance and I recommend a baseline test by age 60 or earlier if you have symptoms.
Prescribed hearing aids differ from OTC hearing aids in the amount of amplification (volume) that can be provided and in the variety of earpiece options available to accommodate ear canal characteristics (including custom-molded pieces). Traditional hearing aids are programmed to a prescription based on the hearing test results, and the settings are fine-tuned over several visits as you gain experience with the hearing aids. Features that include advanced noise reduction and Bluetooth capabilities are now standard.
In summary, OTC hearing aids may provide benefits for some individuals with hearing difficulties. Those with self-perceived mild to moderate loss without any ear-related medical conditions may be candidates and could consider trying a pair if hearing difficulty is impacting their quality of life.
East Penn Hearing Center is located at 619 Dalton Street, Rear Bldg, Emmaus, PA 18049, and can be reached at 610-965-1093 | eastpennhearingcenter.com.