Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing devices have gained in popularity over the years. Even though they are available for purchase online and in many stores, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet published its final rules regarding their sale and use. Let’s take a look at some of the proposed criteria for use, pros, cons, and limitations of OTC hearing devices. Perhaps this will help you, the end user, make an informed decision regarding whether they are an appropriate option for addressing your own hearing needs.

Who is the ideal candidate for an over-the-counter hearing aid?

OTC devices have limited output, making them most appropriate for individuals who have mild to moderate hearing loss. They are like cheater eye glasses you can buy at any drug store, except for hearing. To obtain and use an OTC device, no hearing test or evaluation by a hearing professional is required.

Over-the-counter vs. traditional hearing aids

If you are wondering whether or not you should be using an OTC device or traditional hearing aids, you must take an honest look at your hearing. As mentioned above, an over-the-counter hearing device is only appropriate for those with a perceived mild to moderate hearing loss. Many hearing professionals find this wording VERY alarming because most patients seen for hearing evaluation report having a mild hearing loss even if their impairment is actually quite severe. Most people do not have an accurate picture of how poor their hearing really is. Given that people are poor judges of their hearing impairment, coupled with the fact that a hearing test is not required to utilize an OTC hearing device, a lot of people who are not ideal candidates will still attempt to use these devices.

The advantage of an OTC hearing device

The most important pro to an over-the-counter hearing device is that it has the potential to significantly lower the cost of treating hearing loss. In fact, the reason behind the development of an OTC hearing aid bill was to allow more people access to hearing healthcare. Even though an over-the-counter device will undoubtedly lower the initial cost of hearing loss treatment, the cost savings may come at a long term detriment.

Disadvantages of over-the-counter hearing devices

Although they may be cheaper than traditional hearing aids, OTC devices do come with a few disadvantages:

  1. Self-diagnosis of hearing loss – Many people cannot properly judge the extent of their hearing loss. Therefore, many people with hearing abilities that are worse than they perceive, will utilize OTC hearing devices and not get adequate benefit from them. This, in turn, causes them to think that hearing aids do not work, which is ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE. In fact, hearing aids that are fitted properly work VERY well.
  2. Missed causes of hearing loss – Without the assistance of a hearing professional, it is possible to miss outer and/or middle ear pathologies that could be causing the hearing loss. Many mild to moderate hearing losses can be treated via medical intervention and a hearing device may not be needed. Without a complete hearing evaluation, issues such as cerumen (ear wax) buildup, outer and middle ear infections, and many diseases of the middle ear are missed.
  3. Lack of personal fit – Since OTC hearing devices operate under the philosophy of one-size-fits-all, they cannot be adjusted to work appropriately with different types of hearing impairment. Additionally, as hearing loss gets worse, they will provide less benefit without the ability to be modified by a professional. This limitation means OTC devices may be a good temporary solution, but traditional hearing aids will likely be needed at some point.

What’s the bottom line?

Our belief is that OTC hearing devices have their place in hearing healthcare, but they should not be the central component. The needs of every person are unique, and so is their hearing impairment. Unfortunately, over-the-counter devices eliminate the diagnostic process and go direct to the consumer, making it possible to miss important information along the way.

This is part of the reason that Hearing Aid Advisor was developed. If you are planning on buying an OTC device (assuming the sale of these products is allowed in your area) get your ears tested first. Don’t be surprised if your hearing healthcare professional suggests traditional hearing aids as they are the gold standard for treating hearing loss that does not require surgical or other medical treatment. Ask questions and make sure to submit for a second opinion. It’s easy, fast, and free. Most importantly, we don’t sell anything. This enables our hearing professionals to answer any questions you may have while giving an unbiased and honest assessment of your hearing situation.