Healthline describes the differences between prescription and over-the-counter hearing aids by sharing features of each, benefits, drawbacks, and more.

For many years, the only kind of hearing aids you could get were prescription hearing aids from a hearing specialist.

That all changed when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a new rule that allows customers to buy over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids directly in stores and online — no prescription required.

Now, those with hearing loss have two options: prescription or OTC hearing aids.

This article will help you decide by comparing the two types of hearing aids and looking at well-reviewed products.

Prescription hearing aids can help with any amount of hearing loss (mild to profound), but they are especially helpful for those with severe to profound hearing loss.

Prescription hearing aids are generally more expensive than OTC hearing aids because they come with the expertise of a hearing professional.

A hearing specialist or an audiologist will test your hearing using advanced tools, fit the hearing aid to your ear’s unique shape, and help you adjust to them with follow-up appointments.

OTC hearing aids are an alternative to prescription hearing aids. They are meant to treat mild to moderate hearing loss in adults ages 18 and older.

As of October 2022, you can now buy OTC hearing aids directly in stores and online. This rule was created to reduce healthcare costs for people living in the United States.

Although OTC hearing aids are less expensive than prescription hearing aids, they don’t provide the same custom fit or quality.

Although their concept is the same, there are several differences between prescription hearing aids and OTC hearing aids. This includes:


Only those with mild to moderate hearing loss can use an OTC hearing aid.

Prescription hearing aids, on the other hand, help with hearing loss that is mild, moderate, severe, and profound. If you’re under the age of 18, you must visit a specialist for a prescription.


OTC hearing aids cost significantly less than prescription hearing aids.

President Biden estimated that U.S. adults will save around $3,000 a pair, on average, for OTC hearing aids.

It’s important to note that most — if not all this money — is out of pocket since most insurance companies do not cover the cost.

Style of fit for hearing aids is generally broken down into 4 types:

  • behind-the-ear (BTE)
  • in-the-canal (ITC)
  • in-the-ear (ITE)
  • receiver-in-canal (RIC)


  • less expensive
  • available online and in stores
  • do not require an exam or prescription


  • not typically covered by insurance
  • skipping an exam could mean missing a serious medical condition or underlying reason for hearing loss
  • a one-size-fits-all approach may not work for all users
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  • the device is tailored to your unique ear shape and individual needs
  • exam gets to the root cause of hearing loss
  • hands-on support by a hearing professional
  • better possibility of insurance coverage


  • you may have to wait for insurance reimbursement
  • expensive
  • some hearing professionals offer a limited choice of brands
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Now that OTC hearing aids don’t require a prescription, shopping for them is easier than ever. You can find them at pharmacies, in stores, and at online retailers, such as:

  • Walgreens
  • Best Buy
  • Walmart
  • Sam’s Club
  • CVS
  • Costco

Prescription hearing aids can be purchased through a hearing professional, such as an audiologist. But you will have to have an exam or consultation first.

It’s important to learn the proper way to insert and remove your hearing aids.

Ultimately, this depends on the style of hearing aids you have. Common styles include behind-the-ear, in-the-ear, in-the-canal, and receiver-in-the-canal.

All hearing aids have three basic parts: a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. After you put them on, these parts work together in a three-part system to amplify sound.

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to hearing aids. However, it’s important to check out customer reviews.

If you see many negative reviews, this can be a red flag that a company isn’t worth buying from.

This is especially true if the reviews highlight poor customer service, lost or slow delivery, short return windows, or damaged products.

A good return and warranty policy is a must for hearing aids.

Since there’s an acclimation period to wearing them, it may take up to a few weeks to get used to how they feel and the difference in sounds.

Be sure to use the return window wisely and choose a company that offers a trial period.

Most hearing aids come with a 30-day return policy. Try to choose companies that offer more time, such as 60 or 90 days.

A good warranty policy, ideally 1–2 years, also ensures you’re covered for parts and labor if your hearing aids stop working.

Although features vary per device, some you see often include:

Just as with OTC hearing aids, prescription hearing aid features will vary by device but often include:

  • noise reduction
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • apps
  • water resistance
  • rechargeable batteries
  • fall detection
  • language translation
  • access to hearing professionals in app

While hearing aids are normally safe, there are some safety considerations to be aware of. This includes:

Earwax buildup

Hearing aid users are prone to earwax buildup because the hearing aids stop the wax from moving out naturally. Earwax is fine to an extent. It moisturizes the ear canal and prevents dirt and dust from getting in your ear.

However, excess earwax can cause a whole range of issues, such as temporary hearing loss, ringing in the ear, and dizziness. If you’re prone to this, you may need to see a professional for regular ear cleaning.

Skin irritation

Since the ear canal is sensitive, it’s important to ensure that your hearing aids fit well.

Poorly fitted hearing aids have been known to cause skin problems, such as dermatitis and general irritation. If the problem persists, be sure to visit your doctor.

Other potential side effects from hearing aids include:

  • headaches
  • fungal infections
  • discomfort