What To Know Before You Buy OTC Hearing Aids Skip to main content

October 21, 2022

By: Lindsay Beckler, AuD

Things You Should Know Before Buying Over-The-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids.

photo of a hearing aid

As we continue our salute to Audiology Awareness MonthSightMD calls attention to hearing aids; specifically, what to be mindful of in the event you should need these devices. If your hearing is checked on a regular basis, and your audiologist at some point determines that you will in fact need hearing aids, what should you do? You can get a prescription for a professionally designed pair. Or you can save money by purchasing over the counter hearing aids. Please read this before you decide!

What you need to know before buying over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the “okay” to the sale of OTC hearing aids – thus allowing people to purchase them without the benefit of being tested or needing a prescription – there are a number of factors that should be taken into consideration. Our audiologists at SightMD want you to be best informed about making a decision that is best for you and tailored towards your individual needs. 

What are the differences between prescription hearing aids and (OTC) hearing aids.

It is very important to understand what makes each type of hearing aid different. Prescription hearing aids:

  • Variety of devices that are equipped to address all types of hearing loss
  • Are prescribed and programmed by an audiologist following a comprehensive evaluation
  • Have the ability to be adjusted and reprogrammed according to changes in hearing
  • Are available in a wide range of design options

On the other hand, OTC hearing aids:

  • May benefit general mild-to-moderate hearing problems
  • Are available for purchase in stores, pharmacies, and online – without needing an exam or prescription
  • May be directly adjusted by the customer who purchased them
  • Are currently very simple in design, but this may change over time

Prescription or OTC hearing aids: Which are better for you?

As mentioned, each set of prescription hearing aids is designed specifically for the patient who needs them; particularly those with severe hearing problems. Although OTC devices are currently marketed towards individuals with a mild hearing loss, a self-perceived ‘mild’ loss may differ from an official diagnosis from a licensed Audiologist. Therefore, it is imperative that you visit an Audiologist first for an audiological evaluation, prior to making any decision regarding devices.

Audiological evaluation versus online hearing test.

When the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height, telehealth appointments – where patients had online consultations with their doctors – became a workaround option for checkups and medical advice. Since then, telehealth has remained a popular alternative for some. Where hearing is concerned, online tests are free, simple, and quick. However, they also call into question their accuracy and validity due to limitations of equipment, proper calibration, and frequency range of testing. Online hearing tests are often equated to that of a ‘hearing screening,’ or, a partial or incomplete hearing test. In-person audiological evaluations, however, are comprehensive, detailed, and the literal “hands on” examination of the ears. These evaluations can also help determine if there are any physical problems (such as wax buildup or blockage) that need to be addressed, in addition to any existing hearing loss.

Concerns with OTC hearing aids.

While OTC hearing aids seem promising and cost effective to start, from a long-term perspective, this is not the case. OTC hearing aids do not have the same effectiveness as prescription devices, and will most likely need to be replaced more frequently than prescription devices. Purchasing a “one size fits all” OTC pair of hearing aids limits the benefits that each individual patient may require to address their personalized needs.

If you suspect you may be experiencing hearing loss and are debating whether to make an appointment with an audiologist for the purpose of being fitted with a prescription pair of hearing aids or going for the quick, store-bought type, keep the considerations listed above in mind. Should you want to “leave it to the professionals,” with seven locations across Long Island SightMD is ready, willing, and able to help. Read more about our audiology and hearing services, which provides more answers to commonly asked questions.