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Choosing the right hearing aid -
Illustration of a hand selecting from a variety of hearing aids

Choosing the right hearing aid

Pros and cons of over-the-counter hearing aids

Starting this month, adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss can buy hearing aids at a retail store or online without a prescription, exam, or audiologist fitting. The new category of hearing aids of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids established by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) comes with pros and cons. 

Benefits of OTC hearing aids

  • Affordability – The price tag for OTC hearing aids can be significantly less than prescription hearing aids, making them more accessible for many individuals who need them. Individuals with hearing loss tend to wait an average of 10 years before buying hearing aids. Cost has been a substantial barrier, especially since Medicare and most insurers do not cover hearing aids.

FDA estimates its ruling could lower average costs by as much as $3,000 per pair—providing significant breathing room for the nearly 30 million Americans with hearing loss, including nearly 10 million adults under age 60.

OTC Hearing AidsPrescription Hearing Aids
Regulated by FDAYesYes
Levels of hearing loss coveredMild to moderateMild, moderate, severe, and profound
Average price$1,600*$4,600
Hearing exam required?NoYes
Prescription required?NoYes
Fitting appointment required?NoYes
Purchasing optionsIn retail stores, online, and in some hearing care clinicsHearing care clinics
* White House Fact Sheet
  • Convenience – Consumers can now purchase OTC hearing aids without undergoing a hearing exam or fitting appointment. For those who are unable or uninterested, multiple visits to a hearing clinic for assessment and follow-up are unnecessary. 
  • Access to technology – OTC hearing aids offer more advanced technology, such as smartphone apps enabling users to control volume and settings. Before the availability of OTC hearing aids, easily accessible options were limited to personal sound amplification products (PSAPs). These are intended to amplify sound but are not medical devices and do not address impaired hearing.

Considerations before buying off the shelf

  • No medical exam – OTC hearing aids are based on self-diagnosis. You may sense that you have mild to moderate hearing loss, but without appropriate hearing tests, there is no way to know your level of hearing loss. Sophisticated diagnostic hearing tests inform audiologists’ recommendations of hearing aids and tailored programming to ensure maximum benefit.
  • Not available for all hearing loss – For those with the most significant hearing loss or hearing loss associated with injury or an underlying medical condition, OTC hearing aids are not available. Audiologists and ENT specialists have the expertise required to diagnose and treat these individuals.
  • No professional fitting – OTC hearing aids are self-fitting, meaning they cannot be custom fit for your ear. With prescription hearing aids, you have full-service care to ensure the devices are comfortable and stable. This is especially important since ears come in all shapes and sizes and hearing aids are not one-size-fits-all. For long-term satisfaction and maximum benefit, proper fit is essential.
  • Limited designs and features – OTC hearing aids offer fewer features. Prescription hearing aids are available in a variety of designs, including behind-the-ear, in-the-ear and discreet custom styles. Features like automatic noise reduction, intuitive detection and adjustment based on the noise environment, digital adaptability of sound waves, and Bluetooth enabled.
  • No ongoing service – No in-person hearing care provided after the purchase. Audiologists provide essential services to ensure optimal performance, including periodic hearing and hearing aid checks, cleanings, programming adjustments for better performance, and counseling on maintenance and care.
  • Shorter warranties – Most OTC hearing aids come with shorter warranties than prescription hearing aids which may include repairs from normal wear and tear, damage caused by preventable and unpreventable circumstances, or loss or destruction in the course of everyday use. 

Our take

Oakdale ENT has a long history of providing exceptional care for our hearing aid patients. We recognize that lower prices and easier access to hearing aids will help countless people address hearing loss and get the help they need. We also know that OTC hearing aids have limitations. We believe the personalized care we offer with prescription hearing aids is essential to treating hearing loss of all kinds. 

If you have been inspired to address your hearing loss with the recent availability of OTC hearing aids, we invite you to explore all your options, including seeing one of our audiologists. Schedule an appointment with Oakdale ENT, or call us anytime at 763-233-5755.