Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are hearing devices that you can buy without a prescription. While they’re more affordable than prescription hearing aids, they do have some drawbacks.
Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are hearing aids you can buy without a prescription. This means you can obtain them without visiting a hearing health specialist. These devices work like prescription hearing aids. They improve hearing by making sounds louder.
OTC hearing aids have been available since October 2022. They’re sold in stores and online and are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
However, not everyone with hearing loss should use them. OTC hearing aids are designed for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.
This article explains how they work and how they compare with prescription versions. We’ll also list the pros and cons of OTC hearing aids so you can determine if they’re right for you.
Overall, OTC hearing aids are similar to prescription aids. They help you hear by amplifying sounds. Both types are electronic products and medical devices that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates.
Still, there are major differences:
- Prescription: This is the main difference. You can buy OTC hearing aids without a medical exam and prescription, unlike prescription versions.
- Degree of hearing loss: OTC hearing aids are for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Prescription hearing aids are for people with any level of hearing loss, including severe.
- Customization: When using OTC hearing aids, you must fit and program the device yourself. A hearing health professional fits and programs prescription versions for your specific needs.
Not everyone with hearing loss is a good candidate for OTC hearing aids. The devices are for adults ages 18 years or older with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Symptoms of mild to moderate hearing loss
- Speech and sounds are muffled.
- You have trouble hearing softer sounds.
- You have difficulty hearing in groups or noisy environments.
- You frequently ask others to speak slowly or louder.
- You frequently ask others to repeat what they said.
- You need to increase the volume to a level that’s louder than others prefer when watching TV.
OTC hearing aids are not for children or those with severe hearing loss.
If you think you have mild to moderate hearing loss, it’s still a good idea to see a hearing health professional first. They can ensure your hearing issues are not due to serious problems.
This is especially important if you have symptoms like:
- ear injury or irregularities
- blood, fluid, or pus in one or both ears
- sudden hearing loss
- hearing loss that comes and goes
- buzzing or ringing in one or both ears
- persistent pain in one or both ears
- full or clogged sensation in the ear
- rapidly worsening hearing loss
These symptoms might indicate an underlying medical issue or more severe hearing loss.
OTC hearing aids can have a wide range of features. These features depend on the brand and model. Examples of these features include:
- Bluetooth streaming
- rechargeable batteries
- feedback suppression (to reduce background noise)
- directional microphone
- smartphone control
Different OTC hearing aids also have different warranties. Generally, hearing aids with more features will have higher price points. But that doesn’t mean cheaper versions won’t work as well.
Depending on your preferences and needs, less expensive options may be effective for your situation. Also, like prescription hearing aids, OTC versions are available in different styles:
- behind the ear
- in the ear
- in the canal
The cost of OTC hearing aids can vary. It depends on the specific manufacturer. But compared with prescription hearing aids, OTC versions are more affordable.
The average cost of prescription hearing aids is $4,600. OTC versions cost much less, about $1,600 on average per pair.
When considering OTC hearing aids, it’s important to recognize the pros and cons.
- They are more affordable than prescription hearing aids.
- They’re available without a prescription or medical exam.
- You can buy them without having to visit a hearing clinic.
- Some types have the ability to connect with a smartphone app to adjust the settings.
- They’re not ideal for hearing loss that’s severe or due to medical conditions.
- They’re not professionally fitted for your ear.
- They typically have fewer features than prescription aids.
- There’s no personalized guidance after purchasing.
- They typically have shorter warranties than prescription versions.
Before buying OTC hearing aids, consider first visiting a doctor or audiologist. Although you will not need a prescription, it’s important to confirm your hearing issues are not due to medical conditions.
You can also ask your doctor or audiologist the following questions to ensure you choose the best device:
- Do I have mild to moderate hearing loss?
- Is there another solution or option for my degree of hearing loss?
- Am I good candidate for OTC hearing aids?
- What style of hearing aid should I use?
If you don’t want to visit a doctor, you can take a basic hearing test online or with a smartphone app. Keep in mind that these tests will not diagnose serious medical conditions.
When shopping for OTC hearing aids, consider factors such as:
- whether you need one or two hearing aids
- your budget
- your degree of hearing loss
- what you hope to achieve from a hearing aid
- your lifestyle
To read reviews from customers, you can check the brand’s website. You can also search for hearing aid reviews on YouTube or visit the National Council on Aging for expert reviews.
You can buy OTC hearing aids:
- directly from the manufacturer’s website
- in drugstores, such as Walgreens or CVS
- in electronic stores, such as Best Buy
OTC hearing aids are hearing devices that are available without a prescription. They’re designed for mild to moderate hearing loss for adults ages 18 years and older. You can buy them from the manufacturer or at drugstores and electronic stores.
Compared with prescription hearing aids, OTC versions are more affordable. They also have a wide range of features like Bluetooth settings and the ability to connect to your smartphone.
However, not everyone with hearing loss should use OTC hearing aids. The devices should not be used for hearing loss that’s severe or caused by a medical condition. A doctor or audiologist can determine if they’re right for you.