OTC Hearing Aids vs. Traditional Hearing Aids
By Kelley L. Rohrer, AuD, ABAC, CCC-A, Audiologist at ENT & Audiology at Rutland Regional Medical Center.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released guidance for a new class of devices called Over the Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids. These devices will be available for purchase from retail stores and online without a prescription. There are many benefits to OTC hearing aids, especially for people with mild hearing loss, however they also have significant limitations that are important to know.
Who are they for? OTC hearing aids are for people with mild to moderate hearing loss only; they have limits on how loud they can be turned up and they are not made for people with more severe hearing losses or complicated ear conditions.
How are they fitted? Many OTC hearing aids are “self-fit”, which means you can set them up through a program or smartphone app, or they have preset settings that you can choose. Traditional hearing aids are programed by an audiologist to help with your specific hearing loss and are tested to make sure they are amplifying sound in the way that is needed for your ears.
How are they maintained? Service and warranty will also be different between the devices. There is no set regulation on OTC hearing aids regarding coverage if something happens to the device or if it stops working. Plus, if you are having trouble with the device there may be limited help from the manufacturer. Traditional hearing aids come with a warranty from the manufacturer that covers not only damage but also in many cases loss replacement. Traditional hearing aids are fit by an audiologist; audiologists verify the aids are working well for you and can answer questions and help if issues arise.
What about costs? Cost-wise OTC hearing aids will likely be less expensive than traditional hearing aids. Audiologists are the healthcare providers who specialize in hearing so regardless of whether OTC or traditional hearing aids are right for you, an audiologist can help you make the best decision. We strongly recommend a baseline hearing test even if you would like to buy OTC hearing aids to ensure your ears are healthy and that OTCs are the best option for you.
Research has shown that increased hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline and social isolation, and hearing loss can be a sign of other medical problems. It is important to establish a relationship with a trained audiologist so that you can make the best decision and protect your hearing going forward.
Learn more about getting fitted for hearing aids and receiving a hearing test in this video: