Prescription or OTC hearing aids - Which is right for me?

After a long delay, the Food and Drug Administration released the final rules for over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids this month. The final rule goes into effect 60 days after it is published. This means that OTC hearing aids could be sold nationwide by October 2022.

This is undoubtedly great news for the estimated 28.8 million U.S. adults who could benefit from hearing aids. But does this mean you should abandon prescription hearing aids? Not necessarily. Here we look at the benefits of both OTC and prescription hearing aids. 

Why choose OTC Hearing aids?

They provide much-needed regulation to the hearing device industry.

This new ruling by the FDA will improve the quality of OTC hearing aids by providing output or limit restrictions, volume controls, and programmability, among other things. If you purchase a product that complies with the OTC hearing aid labeling requirements, you're less likely to be sold a low-quality device.

They are cheaper.

OTC hearing aids are projected to cost between $300-1200 each, which is less than the average price of prescription hearing aids. This is a massive benefit for many people who have been priced out of quality hearing treatment.

They make hearing aids more accessible.

Nationwide pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS, and others will play a key role in selling over-the-counter hearing aids. Big box stores will also likely start to sell these devices. For Americans that live in rural areas, these products may be easier to purchase. For example, almost 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of one of the country's more than 61,000 community pharmacies

They encourage individuals to treat hearing loss earlier.

Cognitive decline, brain tissue loss, depression, and a higher risk of falling are all linked to hearing loss. The sooner you seek treatment; the less probable the brain's auditory pathways will suffer permanent harm.

Too many people with hearing loss wait until the condition is severe, which is far too long after the onset of symptoms. By lowering the bar for entry, those who need hearing aids are more likely to get treatment earlier.

Why choose prescription hearing aids? 

They're more likely to offer the latest features.

Prescription hearing aids are made by some leading hearing aid manufacturers who have put millions into researching and engineering the latest hearing technologies, from machine learning-enabled devices to directional microphones. You're unlikely to find the latest features when OTC devices appear in October 2022. 

They are fitted by a hearing professional.

People often don't know how bad their hearing loss is because it deteriorates slowly. This makes it hard to tell if you are a good candidate for over-the-counter hearing aids (someone with mild to a moderate hearing loss). 

A hearing test can help you know for sure that you are qualified. Your hearing test results and information about how you live and what you need to hear will help the audiologist develop the best treatment plan for you. This plan says what kinds of devices should be used. It may seem easy to choose a hearing aid, but it takes a lot of information to make the best choice for each person.

During a hearing aid fitting, the technology and features (how the hearing aid works and how automatic it is) are chosen and set up based on the person's lifestyle and communication needs.

Most people have different levels of hearing loss at different frequencies. This makes it hard to choose the right hearing aid. The audiologist who practices Real Ear Measurements fits a hearing aid by putting a microphone in the person's ear canal to measure how well the hearing aid amplifies different kinds of sounds. This lets the hearing aid be tuned to the person's hearing loss and ear canal and ensures that the brain is receiving an appropriate amount of sound. 

Conclusion: Best practices are still the deciding factor.

If you go the OTC route, see a hearing care professional to have the devices tailored to your needs. 

You won't obtain accurate measurements if you try to self-fit your hearing aids. Therefore, you won't have a hearing aid program to help you reach your prescribed hearing loss goals. Verifying hearing aids through a test box and having them programmed to your hearing loss prescription is still crucial when choosing hearing aids, whether acquired through a hearing professional or over the counter.

Dr. Cliff's Pros and Cons for



Brianna Cole
Student, Audiology Assistant

Brianna Cole is a second year Doctorate of Audiology student at Arizona State University, where she is co-president of the Student Academy of Audiology chapter. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in Speech Science at the University of British Columbia. She started her career in Audiology at Applied Hearing Solutions as Dr. Cliff Olson's direct Audiology Assistant. A hearing aid user herself, Brianna is passionate about helping people hear their absolute best.

Student, Audiology Assistant

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