All About OTC Hearing Aids

People are often very surprised to learn how common hearing loss actually is. Almost 14% of the adult population in the U.S. suffers from it. And tragically, less than 20% of those people seek and maintain appropriate treatment to deal with it. Ignoring or minimizing hearing loss instead of dealing with it puts that person at risk of their symptoms expanding steadily to damage their emotional, psychological and even cognitive health. And the foundation of treatment in the vast majority of cases begins with hearing aids.

In hopes of increasing this percentage of people who take responsible action, in October of 2022 the FDA established a new category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. Anyone 18 years old or older with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss can buy them.

OTC -vs- Prescription Hearing Aids

Until the FDA established this new category, hearing aids were only available with a prescription. And to receive a prescription, one needed to visit a licensed hearing health care professional who would measure your individual hearing loss and then program the device to suit your exact needs. People under the age of 18 who suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss, and people of any age who suffer from severe or profound hearing loss, must all still consult with a hearing health professional. But for those people who qualify, OTC hearing aids now allow the option of bypassing the need for a specialist.

OTC hearing aids can be bought at a store or online without the supervision, involvement, or prescription of a specialist. Just the same as prescription hearing aids, they deliver sound directly to the ear canal via minuscule tubing. But they allow the user to customize the device’s settings to their own needs, using tools, tests, and software.

All OTC hearing aids fall into one of a few categories, and it is up to the user to decide what style device feels right to them. Legacy (traditional) hearing aids cinema with very basic features such as volume and preset programs. There are wireless hearing aids that come with equally basic options as these. And then there are self-fitting hearing aids that allow more customization with technology such as hearing tests, software, and smartphone apps. Choosing the option that feels right to you likely comes down to the severity and uniqueness of your needs and how technically savvy you are.

Before You Buy OTC Hearing Aids

The maximum volumes that OTC hearing aids can achieve have limits that make them ineffective for anyone with more profound hearing loss. So if you suspect that you or a loved one may have severe or profound hearing loss, you should make an appointment with a specialist immediately.

But the labels on the outside of the boxes of OTC hearing aids list the symptoms of mild to moderate hearing loss. Examples of such symptoms include trouble hearing on the phone and getting fatigued by listening. If such symptoms apply to you, OTC hearing aids may be right for you. To be extra cautious about this, there is nothing stopping you from visiting a licensed hearing health care professional for an exam to assess your exact needs and then purchasing the OTC hearing aids elsewhere.

FDA regulations require important information to be included on the outside of OTC hearing aid packaging. Required labelings include warning against their use by anyone younger than 18 and advice on when to seek health care services. The labels include “Red flag” conditions that mean you should see a specialist immediately. Examples of such conditions include ear pain, excess wax or another obstruction, and dizziness.

Further labeling requirements include contact information for the manufacturer, the return policy, information about the necessary batteries, and whether the device uses a remote control or smartphone. It is important to note that some elements of the packaging may be misleading. Examples of this include such ambiguous terms as “FDA registered,” “FDA certified,” or “FDA approved.”

Take Action Today

Whatever hearing aid option you decide is right for you, what’s most important is that you do take responsibility for your own health and your own destiny and take appropriate action today. All hearing aids will require a period of adjustment, so be prepared for that. But take action today to expedite your renewed path to fulfilling your greatest potential.

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