What are OTC Hearing Aids? Otherwise known as Over-The-Counter hearing aids. You may be wondering, are they any good or can they help my hearing loss?
Over-The-Counter hearing aids are a new segment of hearing aids in the market starting officially in October 2022. These types of hearing aids follow the guidelines from the FDA to be fit only for Mild to Moderate hearing losses.
The reason for the ruling is to make hearing more affordable to everyone. This ruling makes sense concerning helping people with hearing loss receive the help they need. In this article, we will take a look at two aspects that each one should consider when thinking about Over The Counter hearing aids.
Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids.
We are very excited that this new rule will bring an onset of new technology to the market, and give the consumer the ability to have some adjustments to the sound they hear. For some that are tech savvy that is a great feature to have in the palm of your hand. While others that are not comfortable using an app on their phone or tablet may not get the benefits they need.
Who are OTC Hearing Aids intended for?
OTC hearing aids are intended for adults 18 years and older with Mild to Moderate hearing loss. They are not intended for Severe to Profound hearing losses.
OTC One size fits all.
As you can imagine, when you purchase something that fits in your ear that is not custom-made for you it is most likely not as comfortable. There are two types of hearing aids.
In The Ear OTC Hearing Aids.
They will use some sort of flexible tip that will try to conform to your ear. For a lot of people that visit our clinics, we notice they quickly become weary of the feeling and start to inquire about something more custom.
Receiver In Canal OTC Hearing Aids.
By far this is the most popular hearing aid style in our clinics. When ordering a hearing aid from an online vendor or someplace that sells over-the-counter hearing aids, you need to consider the fit. This is critically important. If the fit is not correct then you will not receive the best sound quality.
Receiver wire lengths and domes are customized to fit each individual based on specific ear shape and size. In-office measurements are taken by a professional. Without this process, oftentimes the aids will fall off of the ears, or we will see them ‘dangling’ without proper insertion. When speakers are not precisely inserted into the canals, the patient will lose the acoustic seal for optimum sound, therefore there is a loss of needed gain. As you can imagine, not all ears are equal in size.
Typically there are 3-4 different lengths, depending on the distance from the top of the ear to the opening of the ear. If the receiver is too long then the hearing aid will sit too far back and flop on the ear. If the receiver is too short then the hearing aid will fit too far forward thus affecting the directionality of the hearing aid and comfort. Sometimes in our clinics even when we measure the ear before fitting we may need to choose a different receiver for the best fit.
Sound Quality. The old saying, “set it and forget it”, really should not be applied when addressing your hearing loss. If you have an app that you can use to adjust the sound quality then you should try and get the sound to be as natural as possible. The downside of getting over-the-counter hearing aids and just using the volume control is you are not addressing your hearing loss frequency by frequency and decibel by decibel. Why does this matter? If you feed the brain over or under amplification then you are not addressing your hearing loss as you need to and can have some long-lasting effects on your cognitive ability to understand speech.
Service of your OTC Hearing Aids. This is an important factor that everyone should consider. A few things we see in our clinics; hearing instruments are electronic devices, when you think about it these electronic devices are inserted in your ear that oftentimes have wax and moisture.
Considering the scenario, it is without a doubt that they will need maintenance from time to time. They likely will have some sort of wax management filters that you will need to replace. Make sure you can easily get replacement parts. What if the hearing aid stops working altogether? If you are caught in a situation like that then you are likely restricted to packaging up your hearing aid and sending them in for repair and waiting to receive them back.
Something else we’ve noticed over all the years of working with patients in our clinics is when one becomes dependent on better hearing and then all of sudden to be without is very stressful and hard on the patient and the family.
Cost. While the intent of the FDA ruling for OTC hearing aids is to make hearing more affordable, the fact of the matter is, depending on the clinic you have available in your area, hearing instruments can be found at very affordable prices. As an example; in October 2022 we are starting to see OTC hearing aids priced at $899 a pair or higher. Many professional providers already have hearing aids starting in the same price range with in-office services for those in need of continued care.
In-Office Hearing Aids.
So now that we have looked at Over-The-Counter hearing aids, let’s look at the differences when you purchase in person at a hearing aid office.
In-Office Hearing Aid Fitting. The major difference is when you get fit in a clinic, the hearing professional takes the time to fit you properly. This means both acoustically and also with the physical fit of the hearing aid.
Acoustic Fitting. This is the most important part of the fitting process. It starts with the hearing test. This is the foundation for hearing your best. A good comprehensive test will not only tell the hearing professional how you are hearing but most importantly where you are not. The whole point of a good fitting is to only amplify the frequencies you are hearing. Hearing aids are not volume controls that turn up or down everything. They are programmed to your specific hearing loss and give you the most natural sound possible.
Physical Fitting. Just like the Acoustic fitting process a hearing aid professional also takes great care in making sure the physical fit is just as perfect for you. As mentioned earlier, if the fit is not good your whole hearing experience will be poor.
Custom in the ear. Ear canal impressions are taken by our licensed providers for all custom-fitting hearing aids. These are then sent to the manufacturer’s lab to be designed to fit the individual ear. By keeping all of the natural specifications of the ear canal intact, we are able to design a comfortable and correct fitting aid.
Receiver In Canal Length. The length of the receiver can either give you a secure fit with the optimal direction of the sound to the eardrum or cause several issues such as losing the hearing aid, poor sound quality, irritation, and sores on the pinna. These are just a few of the examples of what we’ve seen from improperly fitting hearing aids.
Receiver In Canal Domes. This is another extremely important area. These types of hearing aids require the use of a “Dome” at the end of the receiver that goes into the ear. While some OTC options give you either or both of what are called Open and/or Closed domes. The reality is, there are more than these types. Because we are trying to get the fit precise for the patient we have the options of Open, Vented, Closed, and Power domes. Each one serves its purpose according to hearing loss.
In-Office Sound Quality. No doubt the fitting process hinges on the experience of the hearing professional as well as the devices themselves. There are so many incredibly awesome manufacturers out there with technology that can only be used in the office. In addition, depending on how you are hearing will determine the adjustments that need to be made to ensure there is no over-amplification. The main goal is to help you hear better and to maintain your cognitive ability to understand speech.
In-Office Service of Hearing Aids. This is especially something to take into consideration when deciding on hearing instruments. If you feel like you are comfortable with the maintenance then that is in your favor. Our in-office service utilizes the tools specifically made to reach the smallest of spaces with a vacuum as well as other tools. The number one complaint we see in the office is the hearing aid has stopped working, often due to too much wax in the receiver or speaker and/or the microphones of the hearing aid.
In-Office Hearing Aid Cost. The reality is, 65% of the people in the United States who suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss, to date, do not wear hearing aids. The OTC rule was implemented to help reduce that number. What many people may not know is we have a lot of affordable hearing aid options that compete with OTC hearing aids and give you the In Office service that you need to obtain the best hearing possible. Make sure you check out the options here.
We hope this information helps to lead you to a great decision in your hearing selection. If we can be of service to you please do not hesitate to reach out to us or view our locations to find one near you.
FAQ’s About OTC Hearing Aids
Will OTC hearing aids work for my loss?
This a question that so many people are wondering. The FDA has outlined that OTC hearing aids are intended for Mild to Moderate hearing loss as well as other criteria. You will find a sampling of criteria you need to take into consideration when entertaining if an OTC hearing aid option is for you.
- OTC hearing aids are only made for Mild to Moderate hearing loss. If you have a severe to profound hearing loss then these will not work for you.
If you have any of the following then you should consult your physician according to the FDA:
- Malformed or misshapen ear at birth or due to trauma
- History of drainage from the ear within the previous 90 days
- History of sudden or rapidly progressive hearing loss within the previous 90 days
- Dizziness just experienced or experienced over a long time
- Hearing loss in only one ear or sudden or recent onset of hearing loss within the previous 90 days
- Significant ear wax accumulation or a foreign body in the ear canal
- Pain or discomfort in the ear
Remember the intended purpose is to help you with hearing loss but if you expereince any of these symtoms, then you may have other issues going on that would require a consult with your physician.
Do I need to have my hearing tested before buying OTC hearing aids?
One thing that hearing professioinals all over the world agree with is that you certainly do need to have your hearing tested on a regular basis. The baseline will help you answer the question if you have Mild to Moderate hearing loss that meets the criteria for OTC hearing aids.
We fully anticipate that many manufacturers will incorporate new technology that will screen to some extent the type of loss you have to better tune in for your hearing loss.
Can I return my OTC hearing aid if it doesn't work for me?
While the FDA regulation does not specify that an OTC hearing aid needs to be returnable, it does include language that the return policy needs to be clearly stated. You should look to see if it is returnable in case you need that option. It will give you peace of mind.
Where can I buy OTC hearing aids?
Beginning October 2022 there will be several places you can purchase OTC hearing aids. They will be available on a variety of websites online, big box stores like Best Buy and other retailers, Pharmacies and you may be bale to find them in hearing professional clinics.
Can I get help fitting my OTC hearing aid?
OTC hearing aids are intended to be self fitting hearing aids. A true OTC hearing aid should have technology packed in to help guide you thru the process of education, limited diagnostic analysis of your hearing loss and fitting. You should expect that purchasing from a retailer other than a professional hearing clinic that there will be no in person support available. Some hearing professionals may offer support for brands they carry. There may be a charge for the services available thru a professional hearing clinic.