Although hearing aids can be costly, they’re likely to improve your quality of life and can be well worth the investment.
To make the best choice for your hearing needs — and your budget — it can help to first do some homework.
We reviewed the literature and talked with experts to gather some information and tips that can help you when buying hearing aids.
Unfortunately, buying hearing aids is rarely as easy as simply jumping online and placing an order in a matter of minutes. Instead, it’s recommended that you first get a hearing test and talk with a hearing specialist to learn which options may work best for you.
Having a hearing test
If you suspect you have any degree of hearing loss, it’s a good idea to have a diagnostic hearing test. This can give you an accurate measure of your hearing loss and how a hearing aid might help.
By having your ears and hearing checked, you’ll also find out about any other problems that can affect your hearing, such as wax buildup, infection, or injury.
Following your hearing test, you may also receive a referral to an otolaryngologist, commonly known as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor.
Seeing an otolaryngologist may be recommended if you have:
- unusual patterns of hearing loss
- asymmetrical, or uneven hearing loss
- pain drainage
Hearing consultant and audiologist Dr. Thomas Powers noted that even if you buy an online device, you still “need to know what is the nature of your hearing loss and how severe it is” to choose the right hearing device.
Talking with a specialist about your options
People often underestimate their perceived hearing loss, Powers said. For example, if you find that “everyone else is mumbling,” your hearing might in fact be why you find it hard to understand what people are saying during conversations. A hearing specialist can help you identify this.
Consider meeting with an audiologist. Audiologists are specifically educated, trained, and licensed to diagnose and treat hearing disorders. Hearing instrument specialists and audiologists are both qualified and licensed to select, fit, and provide hearing aids.
Along with giving a physical test, an audiologist can take your medical history and perform further appropriate diagnostic tests, said Dr. Kristin Davis, president-elect of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology.
The specialist will review your results with you and recommend available treatment options, Davis said. These may include “the use of hearing aids, auditory training, or a referral to a medical doctor or surgeon for hearing conditions that will be best treated through implantable amplification technologies such as cochlear implants.”
Hearing aids are not all the same. In fact, they can be very different, with some types fitting behind your ear, while others fit within the ear canal. Some types can connect wirelessly to your phone, filter out background noise, and run on rechargeable batteries.
Types of hearing aids
Getting a professional assessment of the type and severity of your hearing loss can help you choose the right type of hearing aid.
You’ll want a device that:
- helps with your specific type of hearing loss
- fits your lifestyle
- matches your budget
- is comfortable to wear
“Some devices fit behind your ear or in your external ear, and some [fit] completely in the ear canal,” said Powers. “These little, tiny devices slip into your ear canal and are somewhat invisible. These tend to be more expensive because there’s a lot of craftsmanship and [research and development] and everything that goes into making them.”
The main types of hearing aids are:
- behind-the-ear (BTE)
- in-the-canal (ITC) or completely in-the-canal (CIC)
- in-the-ear (ITE)
- receiver-in-canal (RIC)
Each type has its own pros and cons. For example, some people don’t like how ITC options block airflow in the ear. Others like how they’re less noticeable and easily allow for the use of headphones and mobiles.
It’s a common misconception that hearing aids simply crank up the volume of the sounds around you. In reality, different types offer specialized features. For example, they may be able to increase certain frequencies that you have trouble hearing.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a device:
- Background noise filtering. If you work in a noisy environment or regularly engage with other people, you may want a device that filters out background noise.
- Smartphone connectivity. It can be helpful to be able to control your hearing aid remotely with a smartphone app.
- Degree of visibility. Some devices are virtually invisible, while others can be more noticeable.
- Battery rechargeability. If you prefer a waste-free device, you may want hearing aids that use rechargeable batteries rather than single-use batteries.
- Comfort. Different devices can feel different to wear. Consider trying out different types in a store or a hearing professional’s office to see what feels comfortable for you.
After identifying the type of hearing loss you have and which features you’d like for your hearing aid, it’s time to look at purchasing options.
Hearing professional’s office
Hearing professionals can present a range of options that address your type of hearing loss. They may also be able to help you find any available financing options for your purchase.
Usually, a hearing professional works with two or three manufacturers, according to Lise Hamlin, director of public policy for the Hearing Loss Association of America. “There are legitimate reasons for that: The programming software is different for each manufacturer, so there is a cost associated with taking on more products.”
“There is also a learning process for each new product so having the entire range of brands and models may be too much to ask of a small practitioner,” she added.
Hamlin cautioned that “the customer is rarely told that the dispenser is only working with a limited number of manufacturers or that they have a financial connection. I believe there should be transparency above all.”
Be sure to ask your hearing professional why they recommend certain products or brands — and don’t be afraid to shop around.
Many big box stores, chain stores, and local retailers offer hearing aids in a range of brands. Some also have financing plans.
For example, Costco came out on top in a 2018 Consumer Reports retail survey that questioned 17,626 Consumer Reports members.
In addition to external brands, Costco had the most highly rated in-house brand, known as Kirkland. It also had high ratings for price transparency and price plans.
Other hearing aid retailers include:
- Connect Hearing
- Sam’s Club
- Starkey Store
To learn more, check with your local library, which may have a magazine subscription to Consumer Reports. And if so, you can borrow issues or access them online for free.
An advantage to buying hearing aids in a physical retail store near you is that you can:
- see what you are getting
- try on the hearing aids
- easily address any problems by visiting the store
On the negative side, local retail stores may not have the cheapest offerings or carry the specific brands or products you might be looking for.
Many manufacturers sell directly to consumers online. Just keep in mind that while some retailers offer online hearing tests, others require you to provide an audiogram or hearing test results when placing an order.
Once a hearing professional has helped you figure out the nature and severity of your hearing loss, you can look online for hearing aids that meet your hearing needs, have the special features you want, and fit your budget. You can also read online reviews of popular brands.
When shopping online, pay close attention to a company’s overall reliability. Also, make sure to get a clear understanding of trial periods, return fees, and what your options are if the product turns out to not suit you.
Hearing aids can be pricey, and it’s likely you’ll need two of them. Keep in mind, though, that it’s an investment in your overall health and quality of life.
Hamlin estimated that the price range is between $1,600 and $6,000 per hearing aid.
A 2015 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said that the average price of a single hearing aid is $2,300.
Fortunately, there are cheaper options on the market, too.
For example, Powers notes that in 2021, Costco added the Kirkland 10 model. These hearing aids are reasonably priced at $1,399 for a pair — which even includes an audiogram and fitting.
Ultimately, hearing aid prices vary widely depending on:
- where you buy them
In addition to the cost of the device or devices, you need to consider expenses such as:
- routine maintenance
Dr. Davis advises to check out whether your price is just for the product or bundled with other service charges and what kind of financing is offered. “Payment options such as financing and leasing options are readily available in many practices,” Davis said.
Don’t let a high price point keep you from getting hearing aids if you need them. You may be able to get help with paying for your purchase. Here’s a brief list of available types of financial assistance:
Although hearing loss affects about
Medicare Advantage plans, however, may offer coverage for hearing aids and hearing testing.
The Kaiser Family Foundation found that “more than 80 percent of Medicare Advantage plans offered some type of hearing aid benefit.” This is significant because, according to the foundation, about 40 percent of Medicare users have a Medicare Advantage plan.
Medicaid programs vary by state. In general, Medicaid programs pay for hearing aids and testing for children and young adults under the age of 21.
However, Medicaid also tends to require medical approval before providing hearing aids.
You can find a list of Medicaid coverage for hearing-related benefits for adults on the HLAA website.
Other government insurance programs
These federal insurance programs offer hearing aid coverage:
- Government Employees Health Association
- Federal Employee Program Blue Cross
- Veterans Health Administration
Also, you may be eligible for job-related or rehabilitation benefits. This depends on your circumstances and the cause, type, and degree of hearing loss. For example, you may be eligible if you experience sudden hearing loss from an accident or infection.
Thankfully, some insurance companies cover hearing aids and associated medical services. Check with your insurance company to learn more about your specific benefits.
Some states require that private insurance companies include some hearing benefits. State information gathered by the HLAA can be found here.
Several national and local foundations and charities offer financial assistance for hearing aids.
The Hearing Industries Association (HIA) has created a list of resources here.
Hearing aid companies
Lastly, it’s worth noting that several hearing aid companies also offer financing options — some with zero interest payments.
As such, it’s a good idea to review the website of your desired hearing aid product before making your purchase.
Yes, you read that right — you can lease or rent hearing aids.
Kristin Davis noted that “many audiology clinics are beginning to offer leasing programs as a financial alternative for patients.”
“Leasing can be more financially friendly to a patient’s monthly budget and in many instances [it] provides them access to higher level technology due to this factor,” she said. “The device is typically leased for a 3-year to 4-year period with an option to purchase at the end or upgrade to new technology continuing under a leased model.”
The negative side to this, Davis said, is that if you lease and then purchase, “the total amount paid for the device is often more than it would have been if purchased outright initially.”
Hamlin also noted that “some audiologists will lend you a hearing aid, if, for example, you are waiting for your purchased hearing aid to arrive.”
“Scams are becoming a bigger issue than we’ve ever seen in the past,” Powers said. “If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true.”
Here are some ways you can keep yourself safe.
Assess the company’s reputation
Firstly, make sure the company you’re considering buying from is reliable and has a good reputation. Check its online customer reviews as well as its Better Business Bureau rating.
For example, look carefully at any trial period limits and the store’s return policy. It’s important that you have options if the product you invest in ends up not working for you.
Look out for exaggerated claims
Look out for exaggerated claims, Powers said. If a company claims that “they can make speech as clear as before you had hearing loss, or that you’ll be able to hear people 100 yards away,” beware.
Powers noted that hearing aids are “very sophisticated amplifiers, but when a company says their product will eliminate all the background noise, that is probably not true. We’re not able to do that yet.”
Be aware of past scams
Kristin Davis noted that a couple of specific scams came up just in the past year. “First, there were some unscrupulous hearing aid dealers that were sending mailers to consumers suggesting that there was stimulus money available for hearing aids,” she said.
“There are also ongoing efforts by unscrupulous companies to sell personal sound amplifiers and other devices that are not FDA approved and to market them as hearing aids or to make claims about them that are false and misleading,” she added.
While most hearing aids can change the volume of certain frequencies and lower background noise, personal sound amplifiers increase the volume of all sounds. They can be used for activities like birdwatching but shouldn’t take the place of proper hearing aids for those with hearing issues.
Hamlin recommended, “Whatever the scam, people should go to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or even state hearing aid dispensing boards to complain. They should not suffer in silence.”
OTC hearing aids are not yet available, but in the future, they may become a more affordable option for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. That being said, you have to proceed with care.
FDA approval status
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires medical devices, including hearing aids, to be registered with the FDA. This registration implies that the device is safe and effective, but it doesn’t mean that the device is approved by the FDA.
Congress mandated that the FDA establish a category of OTC hearing aids and guidelines for their requirements, but
How to identify an OTC device
An OTC hearing aid is defined as a device that you purchase online, directly from the manufacturer, and adjust yourself with the settings you need. As such, no hearing professional needs to be involved, and you won’t need an audiogram to get started.
OTC aids range from simple devices that amplify sound to more sophisticated, self-fitting products.
Because the FDA has not yet established any OTC guidelines, Lise Hamlin said, “there is no way to vet them because they are flying under the radar.”
As such, it’s best to get an evaluation from a hearing professional before you shop for any hearing device, whether you prefer an OTC device or not.
When you notice hearing loss, it’s best to see an audiologist for a full hearing evaluation and discuss which options can best help you improve your hearing.
Then you can purchase your hearing aids from a hearing clinic, a retail store, or online.
Hearing aids are costly and often not covered by insurance. Thankfully, some assistance programs are available, and most sellers offer some form of financing. You may also want to explore the potentially cheaper OTC devices, speculated to hit the shelves within a few years.