Do you remember those gallon buckets of ice cream you used to get at grocery stores? A whole gallon of ice cream, yum!
But as you get older, you begin to get a little more particular. You begin going for the more specialized ice cream: the Turkey Hill, the Tillamook, the Ben & Jerry’s. Suddenly, those smaller containers are the ones that are enticing.
But you will still probably opt for that big bucket if you’re hosting a large dinner party. Which means that every type of ice cream has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Generic is good in certain situations, but you may want more specific ice cream in other situations.
Obviously, we’re also talking about hearing aids here. Are newer over-the-counter hearing aids any good? Well, it’s a lot like that ice cream: it depends on what your goals are.
There can be real negative effects from hearing loss
Hearing loss can have a significant effect on your everyday activities. Social solitude that often comes along with hearing loss can cause you to avoid having conversations because you’re unable to 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 avoid the cashiers. It isn’t a happy way to live. And it can bring about a faster mental decline as you get older.
So not only are you failing to hear conversations with your loved ones (making holidays and birthdays much less fun, for example), but you have other health problems to worry about too!
How do over-the-counter hearing aids work?
It’s not hard to recognize why individuals would want to go towards hearing aids that can be purchased easily, given the health consequences 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 walk into your local pharmacy. You grab a set of these devices, pay for them, and head home. Once they’re in your ears, they function to boost the sound around you.
Your life can be profoundly and positively impacted by this.
Over-the-counter hearing aids can work in some situations
In 2022 the Food and Drug Administration changed some rules about the distribution of hearing aids that allowed stores including pharmacies to sell them. The thinking was that if hearing aids were more easily available, you’d wind up with fewer people who had untreated hearing loss.
It’s never been difficult to obtain a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. And sometimes, that process can keep people away. Over-the-counter hearing aids may not be a bad option for individuals who just aren’t ready to deal with the process. But prescription hearing aids were not meant to be replaced by over-the-counter models.
But this means that some of the burden of recognizing when over-the-counter hearing aids are or aren’t the best option lies with the individual.
How are OTC hearing aids different from prescription hearing aids?
Generally speaking, OTC hearing aids are not quite as powerful, capable, or customizable as prescription hearing aids. They won’t be personalized to your particular needs and they won’t fit as well.
So, are over-the-counter hearing aids worthwhile at all? There actually can be some advantages to an OTC in specific circumstances. An OTC hearing aid might work best for you if:
- Your hearing loss is in the early phases and is very simple. For mild instances of hearing loss, these devices will work ok.
- You’re never going to get your hearing checked. (Some people never will, even though they absolutely should.) Generally speaking, using an OTC hearing aid will be better than using no hearing aid.
- You want a spare set in case of emergencies.
- Your hearing specialist is suggesting an OTC. (Hopefully, your hearing specialist will even recommend which style or type, and what settings will perform most optimally.)
Typically, OTC hearing aids are sold with specific presets already in place. If your hearing loss is in the lower frequencies, some models will be best and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other designs will be the best option. (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? Will you experience undesirable effects from OTC hearing aids?
Well, let’s just say that OTC hearing aids aren’t a great fit for everybody in every situation. In general, OTC hearing aids may not be the right solution for you if:
- You have more severe hearing loss. While OTC hearing aids can be good for mild and moderate hearing loss, profound hearing loss will need something more powerful and more sophisticated.
- A less expensive hearing aid that doesn’t sufficiently manage your hearing loss probably isn’t worth the money you paid for it.
- Your hearing aids don’t fit well. A custom fit is frequently necessary for some people and OTC hearing aids don’t allow this.
- You don’t know exactly which hearing aid to buy: For some people with hearing loss, the wrong hearing aids can actually damage their ears. (It’s not much different than if you crank your earbuds up to a really loud volume.)
- When you’re in challenging and noisy settings, you need to be able to hear. Depending on what surroundings you need to hear in and precisely what you’re listening to, prescription hearing aids can be customized for those situations.
- You’re only thinking about OTC hearing aids because of perceived cost savings. OTC hearing aids are frequently nearly as expensive as their prescription-only alternative.
What are the dangers of over-the-counter hearing aids? You could be wasting good money and further damaging your ears by using OTC hearing aids if they’re not the best solution for your specific hearing loss.
Either way, you should consult a hearing specialist
For some people, OTC hearing aids will be okay, but for others, prescription hearing aids will be appropriate. But either way, making an appointment can help your hearing aids work better.
That’s because understanding more about your hearing loss will help you get better treatment. Whether your hearing loss requires prescription hearing aids or OTC hearing aids, we can help you get the best treatment for your situation.
We can also help you get the most out of your new technology.
If you believe you have hearing loss and want to find out if OTC hearing aids are right for you, schedule an appointment with us today.