Over-the-counter hearing aids: a beginner’s guide to buying and using them
You no longer have to wait for a hearing test or a prescription to get hearing aids. You now have the option of buying one over the counter to treat mild to moderate hearing loss. This means that hearing aids are more publicly available and cheaper in general. But there’s a lot to consider before you jump in to buy.
Here’s what’s available and where you can buy your own over-the-counter hearing aid.
What type of hearing aid should I choose?
You can choose from three models of hearing aids: behind-the-ear, in-the-ear and in-the-ear.
behind the ear
The largest of the three devices goes behind your ear like the tip of glasses. It’s best for people with significant hearing loss or who need a device that’s sturdy, hard to lose, and easy to clean. However, they can interfere with glasses or masks.
in the ear
The most discreet hearing aid fits in your ear with volume control and battery within easy reach on the front. Although this design is smaller, it is not recommended if you have a history of excess earwax. Additionally, some wearers notice that their own voice rings out when wearing in-the-ear aids.
In the channel
The almost invisible design places the hearing aid directly in the canal. Only the pulling string, used to remove the device, can be seen emerging from the inner ear. Due to its placement, this design is easy to keep dry from rain and snow, but similar to the in-ear design, it is not recommended for people with excess earwax.
Sound Amplification Devices vs Hearing Aids
Dr. Lindsay Creed is Associate Director of Audiology Practices and a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. “Personal sound amplification products are unregulated devices that are intended to provide situational hearing enhancement,” she says. “These are not medical devices and are not intended for use by the hearing impaired.” These devices are less sophisticated than many of the self-adjusting over-the-counter hearing aids we now see hitting the market.
Hearing aids, on the other hand, are medical devices regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and designed to amplify sound for the wearer. These devices are recommended for people with age-related or self-rated hearing loss.
How to Buy OTC Hearing Aids
Buying over-the-counter hearing aids has become very simple. If you want to get hearing aids from your local pharmacy, follow these steps:
1. Optional: Take a hearing test performed by a professional.
2. Order hearing aids online or in store.
3. Try them on yourself at home.
4. Carefully determine your maximum flow rate (a doctor’s help is recommended).
Where to buy an OTC hearing aid
Over-the-counter hearing aids will soon be available at your local drugstore, grocery store, some chain stores, and online. These include:
- best buy
- sam’s club
Check your local stores. Some brands are not yet available nationwide.
- Best Buy says the brands it carries cost between $200 and $3,000.
- Walmart offers brands that cost $199 to $999 per device.
- SVC offers a few brands that cost between $299 and $999 per device.
Many brands of OTC hearing aids available
The following devices will be available in-store and online:
Does insurance cover over-the-counter hearing aids?
Insurance coverage for over-the-counter hearing aids will be individual and plan specific. If an individual’s insurance plan provides benefits for hearing aids, they will determine whether or not it can apply to over-the-counter hearing aids. “Payment will be on a case-by-case basis,” Creed explains, “and some companies may require a prescription from a supplier even if they are over-the-counter.”
People who do not have hearing aid coverage through their insurance may be able to use FSA funds.
Are over-the-counter hearing aids right for you?
If you’re 18 or older and perceive mild to moderate hearing loss, over-the-counter hearing aids might be right for you.
Although over-the-counter hearing aids do not require a medical evaluation, Creed says, “I caution consumers not to purchase without first consulting a professional. The best practice or best care is to consult an audiologist to know your hearing levels. They will help you make the best decision.”
How to tell if an OTC hearing aid fits properly
Your hearing aids should fit the length and depth of your ear canal. The device should fit comfortably on or in your ears. If you bend over or open and close your jaw, the device should not fall. It should fit snugly but not so tight that it’s uncomfortable. The behind-the-ear device wiring should lie flat against your skin. Finally, if you hear a hiss, it may not be far enough. If this continues, you may have the wrong size hearing aid.
However, it is best to consult an audiologist to find out if your hearing aid really fits properly.
Features to watch out for
When deciding which device is best for you, pay attention to special features.
You want hearing aids that last long enough to get you through the day. Some brands have batteries that can last up to 16 hours, while others can go up to 70 hours.
Similar to Apple AirPods, some of the best hearing aids can connect to your phone. This way you can listen to music or watch TV on the go. Also, look for brands that come with their own app. You can then control your device through your phone.
Excess earwax can damage your device. Find one that has filters, especially if you have too much earwax.
Whether the device is designed to sit above or inside the ear, or designed to fit directly into the ear canal, you want to make sure it will be comfortable. Look for hearing aids that use soft “eartips” (the part that goes into your ear) or other customizations, such as adjustable wires, to fit your ears comfortably.
For example, Sony C10 Self-Adjusting OTC Hearing Aids are made with soft tips and come in four sizes for small to large ears.
You will want to try out your hearing aids at home; if they do not match, you will need to return them. Each brand’s return policy should be available on the packaging. A return policy of 30 days or more is preferred.
Are there any risks with OTC hearing aids?
Yes, as with any medical device, there are risks. If you don’t have a hearing test done by a doctor before buying OTC, you may not be prepared to use them properly. Devices’ maximum output can cause hearing loss if you don’t need a high level (a doctor can tell you your maximum output level via a test).
Also, over-the-counter hearing aids can pose a risk to minors. Creed adds, “I’m afraid kids will get them. The FDA doesn’t require ID to purchase.” She says these devices won’t be locked up in stores and pharmacies, so theoretically anyone can get their hands on them. The maximum output of these devices can cause hearing loss in minors.
OTC hearing aids are not for everyone. You may need to see a doctor or get a prescription.
Reasons you might need prescription hearing aids include:
- Hearing aids are too loud or too quiet
- You have a child who needs hearing aids
- This is your first time using a hearing aid
Consult a physician if you have any history or experience one of the following:
- Excess earwax buildup
- Vertigo with hearing loss
- Hearing loss or ringing in only one ear
- Fluid, pus, or blood coming out of your ear
- Pain or discomfort in one or both ears
Overall, the availability of over-the-counter hearing aids is great news for the everyday consumer. People with mild to moderate hearing loss no longer need to make doctor appointments to get hearing aids.
“I applaud the partnership between Sony and audiologists. Sony has been so smart,” says Creed. Sony created one of the first over-the-counter hearing aids, followed by other technology companies. This paved the way for a larger market.
“Although I’m too positive about [over-the-counter hearing aids], I warn consumers that even if they are available without a prescription, it is always better to consult an audiologist in order to know your level of hearing. They will make the best decision for you,” Creed says. From there, a healthcare professional can suggest prescription or even over-the-counter hearing aids.
“OTC hearing aids will contribute to cost and affordability. However, they will still be very expensive.” Creed hopes the cost will eventually come down, making over-the-counter hearing aids even more accessible to the public.