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Pharmacy drugstore blur abstract background with medicine and over the counter hearing aids on shelves

Remember when you used to be able to get those gallon buckets of ice cream at the grocery store? As a kid, they were awesome because they offered an entire gallon of ice cream, that’s a lot of frozen custard and high-fructose corn syrup!

But you start to become more specific in your taste as you mature. Your ice cream tastes get more specialized and you tend to opt for your favorite brand. Those little containers begin to become more enticing.

Nevertheless, if you’re hosting a big dinner party, you’re likely to spring for those generic Kemp’s ice cream buckets. Which means that each type of ice cream has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. In some scenarios, you will want to go with the specialized selection, and in others, the generic will be the best choice.

Obviously, we’re also talking about hearing aids here. How effective are those new over-the-counter hearing aids? Well, it’s a lot like that ice cream: it depends on what your goals are.

There can be significant detrimental effects from hearing loss

Your daily life can be seriously impacted by hearing loss. When you have neglected hearing loss, you can experience social solitude, it’s harder to carry on even simple conversations, so you stay away from situations where you confront other people who may want to speak with you.

This can make you feel distant from your friends and family. You even avoid the cashier at the grocery store. It’s lonely. And it can cause a faster cognitive decline as you get older.

So it’s not only that you can’t hear what your family and friends are saying, but you could also be increasing your chances of other potentially severe health issues.

Over-the-counter hearing aids – how they function

Given the damage that hearing loss can lead to, it’s not very difficult to see the attraction of hearing aids that are simple to purchase.

By their nature, over-the-counter hearing aids are designed to be convenient. Instead of going to consult a hearing specialist and getting fitted for hearing aids, you just walk into your local pharmacy. You pick up a set of these devices, pay for them, and go home. They basically amplify all of the sound around you.

Your life can be greatly and positively influenced by this.

In some cases over-the-counter hearing aids can do the job

In 2022 the Food and Drug Administration changed the rule about the distribution of hearing aids that allowed stores like pharmacies to sell them. The thinking was that if hearing aids were more readily available, you’d wind up with fewer people who had untreated hearing loss.

It’s never been hard to purchase a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. Many people, sadly, feel intimidated by this process so they stay away from it. For people who aren’t quite ready to take the step, over-the-counter hearing aids can be a good option. But prescription hearing aids were never meant to be replaced by over-the-counter models.

But this means that some of the burden of understanding when over-the-counter hearing aids are or aren’t the best choice lies with the individual.

What’s the essential difference between over-the-counter and prescription hearing aids?

Generally speaking, OTC hearing aids are not quite as powerful, capable, or customizable as prescription hearing aids. They will also not fit particularly as well, and they won’t be personalized to your needs.

So, are over-the-counter hearing aids any good at all? Well, yes, in certain circumstances. OTC hearing aids may be the best choice if:

  • You’re never going to get a hearing test. (You absolutely should. But we also acknowledge that some individuals just never will.) Usually, using an OTC hearing aid will be better than using nothing.
  • Your hearing loss is in the early phases and is very simple. For mild cases of hearing loss, these devices will work just fine.
  • You’ve consulted your hearing specialist, and they recommend using an OTC hearing aid. (Hopefully, your hearing specialist will even advise which style or type, and what settings will perform most optimally.)
  • You want a spare pair in case of emergencies.

It’s fairly typical for OTC presets to be pre-programmed when you get them. If your hearing loss is in the lower frequencies, some types will be the right choice 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 purchase any hearing aid, OTC or not).

When OTC hearing aids are not a practical solution

So are there downsides to OTC hearing aids? Will you encounter 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 don’t know exactly which hearing aid to buy: The wrong hearing aids can actually make your hearing worse for someone who has hearing loss. (It’s not much different than if you turn your earbuds up to a really loud volume.)
  • You have more profound hearing loss. More profound cases of hearing loss will require a more powerful prescription hearing aid while minor cases may do fine with OTC hearing aids.
  • A less expensive hearing aid that doesn’t effectively manage your hearing loss most likely isn’t worth what it cost you.
  • You think OTC hearing aids will save you a ton of money. OTC hearing aids are often almost as expensive as their prescription-only counterparts.
  • Your hearing aids don’t fit well. A custom fit is sometimes necessary for some people and OTC hearing aids don’t allow for this.
  • When you’re in complex and noisy spaces, 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.

Are there any risks that come with OTC hearing aids? Generally speaking, if you aren’t a good fit for OTC hearing aids, you could be wasting some money or making your hearing loss worse.

Either way, you should consult a hearing specialist

For some individuals, OTC hearing aids will be okay, but for others, prescription hearing aids will be appropriate. Whichever decision is best for your circumstance, your hearing aids will work better after you have an appointment with us.

You will be able to get better treatment when you understand more about your hearing loss. We can help guide you toward the best hearing aid for your situation, whether it’s OTC or prescription.

Similarly, we can help you better adapt to a new pair of hearing aids, and get the most out of the technology.

Make an appointment with us so we can help you figure out what hearing aid type is best for you.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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