Approved for use since the fall of 2022, OTC hearing aids do not require a prescription or medical exam.

Hearing aids amplify sound. They make things louder so it’s easier for you to hear. Aids are usually worn inside the ear and come in different styles.

Prior to the fall of 2022, hearing aids were only available by prescription in the United States. The government created a new category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid with the goal of making these devices more affordable and accessible for Americans.

OTC hearing aids do not require a prescription or medical exam. People who choose not to see an audiologist for a hearing assessment and fitting will have to select a hearing aid based on personal judgment.

Read on to learn more about what to look for in an OTC hearing aid, who should avoid them, and how they are different from the prescription category.

If you have mild to moderate hearing loss, OTC hearing aids may help you to better understand and communicate. OTC hearing aids work using air conduction. The device makes sounds louder and sends them through the ear canal.

OTC hearing aids are available to purchase online or in-store. A seller does not have to hold a special license to sell OTC hearing aids. Consumers do not need to have a fitting, visit a doctor, have a hearing assessment, or get a prescription to buy OTC hearing aids.

They are not intended for people with severe hearing loss or for children.

There are not yet extensive studies on the effectiveness of OTC hearing aids compared to prescription hearing aids in the United States.

However, the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) notes that OTC hearing aids are for mild to moderate hearing loss only. The organization warns that people may underestimate the level of their hearing loss and therefore not receive enough benefit from OTC products.

The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) says some people may need to see an audiologist or hearing professional. However, HLAA says OTC hearing aids may be an important first step for people with mild to moderate hearing loss who are unlikely to seek help from a medical professional.

You must be at least 18 years old to purchase OTC hearing aids. These products are for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. The FDA says that any other groups should consider prescription hearing aids.

OTC hearing aids are not meant for children.

According to the FDA, children may live with hearing loss because of a medical condition that a doctor should evaluate. Adults, on the other hand, may lose hearing because of advancing age or prolonged exposure to noise. OTC hearing aids are meant for this group of adults.

OTC hearing aids come with instructions, and it’s important to use them as directed. The HLAA recommends paying attention to the warnings on the device packaging. In addition, the HLAA says to see a doctor if you experience any of the following while using OTC hearing aids:

OTC hearing aids are quite new to the market, but it’s thought the average cost could be about $1,000 per pair.

Most insurance policies don’t cover hearing aids. Some insurance policies may cover hearing exams or other hearing services.

Government programs like original Medicare also don’t often cover the cost of hearing aids, even those required by prescription. Veterans Affairs may supply prescription hearing aids for veterans eligible for care.

OTC hearing aids work in a way similar to prescription hearing aids. Depending on the design, you may place it in or over the ear. You may be able to adjust the volume. The device may require that you use a smartphone or computer to operate or change the settings.

You may put the devices in the ear and take them out at different times. The FDA recommends wearing them regularly to get the most benefit. You may also want to test your hearing aids in different environments to see if you still experience hearing difficulties.

The FDA has recommended that each state set a policy for OTC hearing aid returns. In most states, there’s a mandatory return policy for prescription hearing aids.

Some retailers may offer a trial or adjustment period. In addition, most OTC hearing aids will come with a warranty period. Read the warranty terms carefully before purchasing if you have any concerns about your ability to bring back your aids if they don’t work for you.

The choice of an OTC hearing aid relies on lifestyle, health, and financial factors. Ideally, your hearing aids should be:

  • convenient to use and comfortable to wear
  • covered under warranty with replaceable parts
  • easy to operate given your comfort with technology
  • affordable given your budget
  • returnable during a trial or adjustment period
  • easy to clean and maintain
  • sweat and water resistant
  • created to reduce background or wind noise

Hearing aid batteries can last as short as 3 to 7 days or as long as 9 to 20 days depending on the style of aid. Consider adding the cost of hearing aid batteries into your budget.

Both OTC and prescription hearing aids may be good options for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. There are some important differences.

OTC hearing aids:

  • one-size-fits-all
  • for adults only
  • return policy depends on state

Prescription hearing aids:

  • customizable design
  • for all ages
  • returns mandated in most states

Prescription hearing aids may use air conduction or bone conduction. Bone conduction hearing aids are for people with outer or middle ear problems. OTC hearing aids are air conduction only.

When you purchase OTC hearing aids, you select a pair based on your own assessment of your hearing needs. A prescription pair of hearing aids involves an audiologic assessment where your hearing is objectively measured. A professional helps you to find the best fit for your ear.

OTC hearing aids may provide an affordable alternative to prescription hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Hearing experts recommend that people still receive a hearing assessment and proper fitting for aids to ensure the device works optimally.