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The Worrying Promises of OTC Hearing Aids

What’s the big news about OTC hearing aids?

Hearing aids and hearing health care has received quite a bit of media attention lately. This is because a law was recently passed that allows stores such as Walmart or CVS to sell hearing devices directly to the consumer without a fitting or hearing examination.  Hearing aids that can be purchased at a store or online without a medical professional present such as an Ear Nose & Throat physician, audiologist, or hearing aid specialist are called “Over-the-Counter hearing aids” or OTC’s. This device is different from a hearing aid obtained from a medical professional. A hearing aid obtained from a medical professional is referred to as a “Prescription Hearing Aid”. 

An OTC hearing aid will be made available starting mid October of this year. Anyone will be able to pick up a set of hearing aids at their local convenience store just like they would pick up a pair of simple reader glasses at CVS in the vision section. What makes the OTC hearing aid different from the prescription device is that a medical professional is not involved. What is worrying is that the advertisements already appear to promise the moon while neglecting to point out that many hearing losses actually require medical intervention. This may be delayed when a consumer buy an OTC product that they might not even need.

The consumer will be in charge of selecting, fitting and programming their own device. These devices are intended only for adults with a certain amount and type of hearing loss. Children and certain hearing losses can NOT and should NOT be fit with these devices for safety reasons. Another worry is the accuracy of a hearing test through a phone app or a website. These are not a replacement for an Audiologist’s diagnostic exam. 

The first step in understanding if one may be a candidate for OTC hearing aids is to first speak with a hearing health care professional as not all hearing losses are the same. An audiologist can inform you if you are a candidate and if your hearing loss may be treated with medical intervention and not a hearing aid. All children under the age of 18 should only seek hearing health care from a professional.

 OTC devices will be cheaper than prescription hearing aids but they will not be programmable by a professional. If you are experiencing issues with your OTC hearing aid the device manufacturer is required to provide an “email and mailing address that you can use to contact them. Manufacturers of OTC devices are NOT required to provide customer service for OTC devices over the phone” (2022). A prescription hearing aid purchased from a hearing health care provider includes the provider’s expertise, time, and services to assist patients with their devices both at the fitting and over time as their hearing changes.

Another key difference between OTC hearing aids and prescription hearing aids is the degree of hearing loss that they are capable of managing. OTC hearing aids “are for perceived mild to moderate hearing loss only, while prescription hearing aids can help with all types of hearing loss.” (Crouch, 2022 ). If your hearing loss is greater than mild to moderate a prescription hearing aid fit by a hearing healthcare professional is going to be the best option. If the hearing loss fits into the mild to moderate range however, is atypical in nature, an OTC device may not be the best choice for the patient and a prescription hearing aid should be obtained instead. No matter what type of hearing loss is present it should first be evaluated by a professional. Significant over amplification may lead to increased hearing loss over time. 

All hearing losses should be managed and not ignored. Multiple studies “link untreated hearing loss with an increased risk of depression, falls, and earlier onset of decline in thought processes. One goal of OTC hearing aids is to provide more timely access to lower-cost hearing aids” (2022). OTC devices are an excellent resource for certain individuals who are hearing impaired yet are not yet ready to invest in prescription hearing aids. If you would like to speak to one of our hearing health care professionals regarding your candidacy or to simply evaluate your hearing status simply click on the following link: https://levinehearing.com/contact/ or go to LevineHearing.com for more information.

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