For years, the high cost of traditional hearing aids has prevented many individuals from seeking treatment for their hearing loss. In fact, on average, people wait seven years before seeking help for hearing loss. But with the recent arrival of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, the cost might no longer be the insurmountable barrier it once was. 

Since October 17, 2022, individuals have gained access to more cost-effective hearing aid options thanks to the establishment of a new category of OTC hearing aids by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in August 2022. Under this ruling, consumers can purchase a hearing aid without needing a medical exam, prescription, or professional fitting.

While this is welcome news to many, we don't believe they are a good fit for everyone. Let's look at the potential benefits and limitations of using OTC hearing aids.

The Differences Between OTC and Prescription Hearing Aids

OTC hearing aids are devices that can be purchased without a prescription. They are designed to help individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss hear better in quiet environments. 

While OTC hearing aids are in many ways similar to traditional hearing aids, they differ in several ways:

The level of hearing loss that is covered

One of the main differences between OTC hearing aids and prescription hearing aids is the level of hearing loss they can address. OTC hearing aids are designed for mild to moderate hearing loss, which may not be suitable for those with more severe or profound hearing loss. Prescription hearing aids, on the other hand, can help individuals with all levels of hearing loss, from mild to severe.

How you acquire them

Another critical difference between OTC hearing aids and prescription hearing aids is how they are obtained. Prescription hearing aids require a hearing test and fitting with an audiologist, who will order the appropriate device. OTC hearing aids, on the other hand, are available for purchase in stores, pharmacies, and online without needing a fitting or exam. 

The cost

One of the primary benefits of OTC hearing aids is their affordability. While prescription hearing aids can be expensive, OTC hearing aids are expected to cost substantially less. This can make them more accessible to those who cannot afford traditional hearing aids or have insurance coverage.

How they are adjusted

Prescription hearing aids require the help of a hearing health professional for adjustment and programming. This ensures the device is customized to the individual's unique hearing needs and preferences. OTC hearing aids, on the other hand, can be adjusted by the user without needing professional assistance. 

This is an area where having a hearing professional is crucial. Similar to eyeglasses, hearing aids cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, they require a customized prescription that is calibrated pitch by pitch based on the individual's hearing test outcomes. Even if an over-the-counter (OTC) device can be adjusted generally for bass and treble, without the unique prescription tailored to one's specific hearing needs, one may not be able to optimize their hearing potential fully.

Who are OTC Hearing Aids Suitable For?

OTC hearing aids could be a good option for people with mild to moderate hearing loss who cannot afford traditional hearing aids. Additionally, those who have difficulty accessing audiologists or want to try out hearing aids before investing in more expensive options may also benefit from OTC hearing aids.

It's important to note that not everyone with hearing loss is a good candidate for OTC hearing aids. Those with severe hearing loss or underlying health issues should seek the advice of a licensed audiologist.

Importance of Seeing an Audiologist

Professional hearing tests are crucial for accurately diagnosing hearing loss and identifying any underlying health issues that may be contributing to hearing loss.

An audiologist can customize traditional hearing aids to the individual's unique hearing needs, resulting in more effective amplification. They can also provide ongoing support and monitoring of hearing loss progression.

It's important to remember that while OTC hearing aids can be a good option for some individuals, they are not a substitute for professional hearing care. Regular visits to an audiologist are essential for accurately diagnosing and treating hearing loss.

Hearing loss can be a challenging experience, but there are options available to help. While OTC hearing aids may be a good option for some individuals, it's essential to understand their limitations and the importance of seeing an audiologist for proper diagnosis and treatment. Early treatment can help prevent further hearing loss and improve quality of life.

Don't let hearing loss stop you from living your life on your terms. We offer a variety of hearing solutions, including traditional hearing aids and OTC hearing aids. We can also provide personalized care and ongoing support to help you find the best solution for your hearing needs. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards better hearing.

Written by
Reviewed by
Craig T. Barth, M.A., CCC-A, FAAA
Founder & Audiologist
Read full bio

Craig was drawn to Audiology through a curious route. His undergraduate college major was Pre-Med, with a secondary concentration in Music. He realized his own personal music appreciation cannot be fully experienced by someone with hearing impairment.