Are Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids Worth It?

Are Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids Worth It?

Originally Published on May 21, 2019

You’ve probably heard about the recent FDA rule-change allowing certain people to purchase over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids without a prescription. Maybe you’ve also seen ads for OTC hearing aids available online or via mail order. There are even big-box stores that now carry them.

And the allure of OTC hearing aids is easy to understand:

  • You don’t need to consult with an audiologist in advance
  • OTC hearing aids are marketed as aesthetically pleasing
  • They’re “billed” as being comparable to normal hearing aids

Most importantly, they are much cheaper – averaging between $370 and $1,500 each.

But do these over-the-counter hearing aids actually deliver?

The only way to know for sure is to try them out. If you have money to waste – go for it.

However, you’ll eventually discover what many before you already have…

The costs do not outweigh the benefits.

Worse still, you probably won’t end up wearing them long-term (even after shelling out money). In fact, a longitudinal study by MarkeTrak determined that those with hearing loss only wear their OTC hearing aids 30% of the time – compared to 83% satisfaction rate for prescribed hearing aids, based on Marketrak 10 survey.

And you’ll soon learn why our patients wear their hearing aids nearly 90% of the time.

The Truth about Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

OTC hearing aids are not inherently bad. No matter what model or brand you use, there will likely be some increase in overall loudness.

But over-the-counter hearing aids suffer from several limitations:

  • OTC assistive hearing technology is an unregulated market, meaning there is no guarantee of quality.
  • They are designed for mild to moderate hearing loss – despite being marketed for everyone. This explains why most advertisements appear as infomercials during daytime soaps and late-night TV.
  • Lower costs typically mean less functionality.
  • The technology within the hearing aid is far inferior to the top hearing aids we work with. This means hearing in background noise will always be difficult because OTC increases all sounds around you (not just the speech).
  • The hearing aid will be programmed based on a hearing test, which may be inaccurate if not performed by an audiologist.

But the biggest drawback has nothing to do with the hearing aids themselves. Even if you find reputable, high quality, programmable hearing aids online, the benefits will be limited without the help of an audiologist.

Ironically, this is precisely what over-the-counter manufacturers try to pitch – i.e. a chance to cut out the middleman and save money.

However, audiologists are not middlemen, and not using one may actually cost you a lot more money, time and a risk to your health in the long run.

Below are 3 reasons why.

1. Proper Testing

Hearing loss is caused by different factors, including infection, age, disease, medications, undetected tumors, injury and overexposure to loud noises. 

Most TV infomercials fail to mention these causes.

However, having an audiologist evaluate your hearing to determine the exact type and cause is an essential step in the hearing aid selection process. 

The Hearing Solution’s own Elizabeth Barragan, Au.D was recently interviewed in an ABC10 story and spoke about the importance of proper hearing testing.

“I recommend still getting a hearing evaluation by your hearing care professional, to first diagnose your hearing loss and the type of hearing loss that you have, and address any medical issues that may be correlated with your hearing loss. That's very important to do first, before getting over-the-counter hearing aids.”

2. Fitting & Customization

Proper screening helps establish a baseline. As you try out different hearing aid options, your audiologist must perform additional testing such as real ear probe mic measurements to ensure the fitting and customizations are appropriate.

This step is much harder with OTC hearing aids since the “one-size-fits-all” approach is a critical component of their low-cost business model. As a result, many wearers simply stop using their over-the-counter hearing aids due to discomfort.

You might be thinking,

“No problem… Even if they’re uncomfortable, poorly fitted and not optimized, OTC hearing aids are cheaper… So they’re better than nothing, right?”


There is one final piece of the puzzle.

3. Auditory Deprivation

Our ears are what receive auditory information, but the brain is what ultimately processes these signals as “sound.”

This function is malleable since the brain is essentially a muscle that:

  • Strengthens from usage
  • Weakens from inactivity

This means wearing incorrect hearing aids for prolonged periods can actually train the brain to no longer receive or need certain auditory pathways. 

  • Your hearing ability slowly declines
  • Sound clarity soon begins to suffer
  • Your brain works harder to fill in the gaps

The above is known as “auditory deprivation.” And remember – you paid for this.

The process is similar to wearing the wrong eyeglass prescription for extended periods. Over time, your eyesight will worsen, and you’ll likely get headaches as well.

Auditory deprivation is such a common problem that the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), American Academy of Audiology (AAA), International Hearing Society (IHS), and Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) recently petitioned the FDA to conduct more oversight of over-the-counter hearing aids.

The goal of this industry-wide push is to make OTC hearing aid safer for the average consumer, with:

  • Stricter product guidelines and manufacturing standards
  • Greater transparency about the risks of unregulated hearing aids

These recommendations haven’t been implemented yet. And until they are, you’re potentially gambling with your own health if you choose to wear OTC hearing aids that haven’t been properly fitted and customized by a licensed audiologist.

Our Approach to Hearing Aid Selection

At The Hearing Solution, our goal is to help you hear the world as clearly as possible.

We accomplish this by:

  • Conducting comprehensive screening exams across a wide range of simulated environments – from quiet settings to noisy streets. This allows us to pinpoint the type and severity of hearing loss you’re facing.
  • Helping you select the best hearing aids for your lifestyle and needs. We carry a large selection of reputable brands. If you have already purchased hearing aids from another source (including over-the-counter), we can help customize and fit them for you using verification measures such as real ear live speech mapping.
  • Performing additional testing of your newly fitted hearing aids in environments designed to simulate the real world. If you bring in your own hearing aids, we can conduct side-by-side comparisons so you can hear the difference between the models we carry and what you currently have.

The final step involves having you test drive your hearing aids for a week in the actual real world. If you don’t notice a big improvement or find them uncomfortable, we will conduct further testing, fitting and customization – as many times as necessary. 

Come and Hear the Difference

Patients who buy over-the-counter hearing aids wear their hearing aids about 30% of the time. Those who consult with an audiologist first typically wear their hearing aids over 70% of the time. The latest MarkeTrak survey finds that hearing aid satisfaction rate of hearing aids from major manufacturers fit by an audiologist are at a satisfaction rate of 83%, and 94% of all hearing aid users have a 94% satisfaction rate with the provider. (MarkeTrak 10 results)

At The Hearing Solution, our goal is to move you as close to 100% as possible. This is why we invest so much time upfront to ensure you have the best hearing aids for your needs.

If you’d like to learn more about our unique approach to hearing loss correction – schedule an appointment with us today.

Interested in learning more? Attend one of our regular hearing solution events to learn more about our unique approach to hearing loss or give us a call at 916-646-2471.

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