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Prescription Hearing Aids VS Over-The-Counter Devices

Author: Concept by Iowa Hearing
Reviewer: Heather Vaught, AuD
– 4.5 minute read

If you’re looking into hearing devices, chances are either you or someone you love is one of the approximately 48 million Americans experiencing some degree of hearing loss today. Although most prominent in seniors, anyone can have hearing loss at any age.

Hearing loss, and the use of hearing aids, is very common worldwide. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.

Not All Hearing Devices Are the Same

Hearing technology varies widely in features, technology, and components. Hearing devices can be categorized in three ways: prescription hearing aids, over-the-counter hearing aids, and personal sound amplifiers.  There are also surgical products, such as cochlear implants and bone-anchored hearing devices (but we won’t get into those here).

The Best Choice for Treating Significant Hearing Loss: Prescription Hearing Aids

Prescription hearing aids are medical-grade, customized devices intended to preserve long-term hearing health and maximize hearing. They are regulated by the FDA, customized to a person’s hearing loss and are only available from a licensed hearing aid professional. 

In order to be fitted for one, patients undergo thorough testing with an audiologist or hearing specialist. The testing shows where the patient is struggling to detect sounds and interpret speech. The results are then used to fine-tune specific sounds, tones, and plan for the hearing needs of each individual. The specialist and the patient discuss what treatment options are available and decide on devices to meet the patients’ listening demands. Even if you feel that you just have a “little bit of hearing loss,” it’s unique to you specifically, and important to know what you may or may not be missing.

In addition to being personalized for each patient, today’s prescription hearing aids can be connected to smartphones, and remotely adjusted depending on the situation, such as when attending a sporting event or gathering with a group of family and friends. These devices are professionally programmed to the precise needs of each user’s individual ear to ensure peak performance and as well as acoustic and physical comfort.

Recently, the FDA has created a new category for hearing devices that can be purchased over-the-counter.

Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids

Over-The-Counter devices are aimed specifically towards those with mild-to-moderate hearing loss—and don’t require a prescription or the involvement of a licensed professional. 

Similar to reading glasses, they can be worn when needed, like at a family gathering, and taken out when not necessary. They are not designed to be a long-term solution for hearing loss and are not individually programmed to each ear.

This new category of devices will certainly expand access to hearing devices; however they won’t be the right solution for everyone. Not only do they lack the individual fitting and fine-tuning you’d get from a traditional device and provider, without a hearing test you will only be going on guesswork in finding the right solution.

Personal Sound Amplifiers

Personal Sound Amplifiers are often mistakenly thought of as a more “affordable”hearing aid, but in actuality, they were designed for recreational use–and aren’t meant to treat hearing loss or be worn for long periods of time. Personal Sound Amplifiers are not regulated by the FDA and are not meant to prescriptively treat any type of hearing loss.

While they can be helpful in mild cases of loss, they lack the customization required to make them a comfortable and an effective long-term solution.

How do I know which option is right for me?

It is always best to be evaluated by a hearing professional. You may not know how bad your hearing is. Studies show that many people visit audiologists for testing believing they have mild hearing loss and will require a simple fix, but testing reveals that their hearing has deteriorated more than they realized.

It’s important to remember that there are many causes for hearing loss – some of which could be medically-related. Hearing loss is often progressive and hard to self-monitor. While you might believe you have mild hearing loss, only a professional can truly measure the degree of loss or determine underlying conditions. 

Ready to take the next step in your journey to better hearing? Our expert hearing care providers will help you find the solution best-suited for your specific needs. Book your appointment today.