Do you remember those gallon buckets of ice cream you used to find at grocery stores? As a kid, they were the best thing ever because they promised a whole gallon of ice cream, that’s a lot of frozen custard and high-fructose corn syrup!
But as you get older, you start to get a little more specific. You start opting for the more specialized ice cream: the Turkey Hill, the Tillamook, the Ben & Jerry’s. Suddenly, those littler containers are the ones that are enticing.
Still, if you’re hosting a big dinner party, you’re likely to spring for those generic Kemp’s ice cream buckets. Which means that every kind of ice cream has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Generic is good in certain situations, but you might want more specialized ice cream in other situations.
This same mentality also pertains to hearing aids. How good are those new over-the-counter hearing aids? Well, it’s a lot like that ice cream: it depends on what your goals are.
Hearing loss can have serious affects
Hearing loss can have a significant effect on your day-to-day experiences. When you have neglected hearing loss, you can experience social isolation, it’s harder to have even basic conversations, so you steer clear of situations where you confront other people who may want to speak with you.
Which means you wind up estranged from your family and friends. When you go to the supermarket you go to self-checkout so you can avoid the cashiers. It’s not a happy way to live. And it can cause a faster mental decline as you age.
So it isn’t only that you’re unable to hear what your family and friends are saying, but you could also be increasing your chances of other potentially serious health issues.
Over-the-counter hearing aids – how they work
It isn’t hard to understand why people would want to go towards hearing aids that can be bought easily, given the health repercussions of hearing loss.
Convenience is the very nature of the attraction of over-the-counter hearing aids. You just go into your local pharmacy and you never have to schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist. You’re on your way home right after you pick up and pay for these devices. Once you put them in, they work to boost the sound around you.
This can have a profoundly positive impact on your life.
Over-the-counter hearing aids can do the trick in some situations
In 2022 the Food and Drug Administration changed some rules about the distribution of hearing aids that allowed stores like pharmacies to sell them. The thinking was that if hearing aids were more conveniently available, you’d end up with fewer people who had neglected hearing loss.
It’s never been difficult to obtain a prescription hearing aid, but it is a process. Many individuals, sadly, feel intimidated by this process so they avoid it. Over-the-counter hearing aids may not be a bad solution for individuals who just aren’t ready to deal with the process. But prescription hearing aids were not meant to be replaced by over-the-counter models.
Unfortunately, this means that individuals now bear some of the burden of knowing when OTC hearing aids are a good fit (and when they aren’t).
How are OTC hearing aids different than prescription hearing aids?
As a general rule, prescription hearing aids are more powerful and have much more customizable functions than OTC hearing aids. They will also not fit quite as well, and they won’t be personalized to your needs.
So is there anything useful or positive about OTC hearing aids? Well, yes, in some cases. OTC hearing aids might be the best option if:
- You keep a set on hand just in case your prescription hearing aids need to go in for maintenance.
- Your hearing specialist is suggesting an OTC. (Hopefully, your hearing specialist will even advise which style or type, and what settings will work best.)
- You have very simple or early-stage hearing loss. These devices are great for really mild or moderate hearing loss.
- You have no intention of getting your hearing assessed. (Some people never will, even though they absolutely should.) Usually, using an OTC hearing aid will be better than using no hearing aid.
It’s pretty typical for OTC presets to be pre-programmed when you buy them. If your hearing loss is in the lower frequencies, some models will be best and if you have high-frequency hearing loss other models will be the best option. (This is why it’s good to know more about your own hearing loss before you purchase any hearing aid, OTC or not).
When OTC hearing aids aren’t a practical solution
So are there downsides to OTC hearing aids? Will you encounter undesirable effects from OTC hearing aids?
Well every scenario won’t include OTC hearing aids, let’s just say. Generally, OTC hearing aids might not be the right solution for you if:
- Is the money you paid really worth it if that OTC hearing aid isn’t effective in treating your hearing loss?
- You need to hear in complex or noisy environments. The majority of prescription hearing aids can be customized depending on what you need to hear and where you need to hear it.
- Exactly which hearing aid to invest in is still unknown to you: For some individuals with hearing loss, the wrong hearing aids can actually harm their ears. (It’s like the equivalent of using really loud earbuds.)
- You have more severe hearing loss. While OTC hearing aids can be good for less significant hearing loss, severe hearing loss will need something more powerful and more refined.
- OTC hearing aids are not custom fit the way you may need them to be. Sometimes, you may need something with a custom fit, which is only feasible with a prescription hearing aid.
- You’re only interested in OTC hearing aids because you think they cost a lot less. Well, prescription hearing aids commonly don’t cost a great deal more than OTC hearing aids.
What are the dangers of over-the-counter hearing aids? You could be wasting good money and further damaging your ears by using OTC hearing aids if they’re not the best solution for your specific hearing loss.
Either way, you should consult a hearing specialist
For some people, OTC hearing aids will be fine, but for others, prescription hearing aids will be necessary. But either way, making an appointment can help your hearing aids work better.
You will be capable of getting better treatment when you understand more about your hearing loss. We can help steer you toward the best hearing aid for your symptoms, whether it’s OTC or prescription.
In the same way, we can help you better adapt to a new set of hearing aids, and get the most out of the technology.
Schedule an appointment with us so we can help you determine what hearing aid type is best for you.