Over The Counter Hearing Aids (OTCs) Are Here, Now What?

The recently signed US Inflation Reduction Act creates an over-the-counter hearing aid category which should provide reasonable assurance of safety and improved access for patients - and that’s a good thing!

Many patients are very interested to see how OTC hearing aids will be priced, and so are we! It looks like they will range anywhere from several hundred dollars to a few thousand – just like most prescription hearing aids. A point left out of much of the recent media coverage.

What we do know is that OTC won’t perform like prescription hearing aids. Specifically, prescription hearing aids outperform OTC when it comes to frequency range (which helps to hear higher and softer voices), circuit noise, signal distortion, and delay. Combined, they create a better, and more effortless listening experience than OTC. In most cases, you will hear the difference.

And the types and size of materials used in the ear canal will be limited by these new rules and some patients may lose a good, firm fit causing unpleasant feedback or forcing them to turn them up, which is dangerous.

Even more important than price and performance, many patients will have a medical need that should be addressed prior to selecting their hearing aid path altogether.

Those medical needs are visible damage to the ear (either from birth or trauma); pain or discomfort or fluid draining from ear; a history of excessive ear wax or suspicion of something lodged in the ear canal; episodes of vertigo; sudden, quickly worsening, or fluctuating hearing loss; hearing loss or ringing (tinnitus) is only one ear, or noticeable differences between the ears, and more. 

While OTC hearing aids are getting a lot of attention, they aren’t necessarily new. Amplification options have been available without a prescription for years - they just haven’t been regulated.

Despite this well intended law, officials in several states have been warning consumers, especially seniors, to be cautious when considering hearing products over the counter, or online. 

New York’s Attorney General’s office is warning consumers about companies who market OTC hearing aids and California’s Attorney General’s cautioned that these devices “may appear to be more cost-effective than traditional hearing aids, (but) they may not properly address your particular hearing loss needs.”

Our advice? Consider the following before purchasing an OTC hearing aid:

Get tested by a licensed hearing professional.

Hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors. Online or app-based hearing tests, although convenient, may fail to detect individualized or serious hearing loss issues – especially those identified visually. 

Understand what you’re actually buying.

Prescription hearing aids are medical devices sold under contract for your protection, and individually tailored to your needs. OTC hearing aids are a “one-size-fits-all” approach designed to treat only certain types of hearing loss, cannot be fine-tuned, and may be uncomfortable.

Beware of misleading claims.

Currently, very few OTC hearing aid products have FDA approval, despite many companies making that claim. “FDA registered” devices are not necessarily FDA-approved.

Know your rights

If you are unhappy with your hearing aid(s), you should be able to return or exchange them without any additional fees and you should get a written statement with return/exchange information and the date of expiration for the return period.

If you have any questions about over-the-counter hearing aids or your hearing health, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of professionals. We would be happy to schedule a complimentary hearing check and consultation to discuss your options and help determine whether over-the-counter hearing aids are right for you. 

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