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  • Cameron Oglesby

Now you can buy hearing aids over the counter. But should you?

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

Now that the FDA deregulation I wrote about in August has taken effect, anyone over 18 years old can buy a hearing aid at a pharmacy, a big box store, or online. Without a hearing test. Without a prescription. And for hundreds, rather than thousands, of dollars.

That’s great news for the one-third of Americans between 65 and 74, and the half who are 75 and older, with hearing loss severe enough to affect their daily lives.

But not for all of them.

That’s because price isn’t the only big difference between over the counter and prescription hearing aids.

OTC hearing aids are for people with mild to moderate hearing loss, such as:

  • Having trouble understanding conversations in groups, with background noise, or when you can’t see who’s talking.

  • Having trouble hearing on the phone.

  • Needing to turn up the radio or television volume so much that others complain.

  • Having to constantly ask people to repeat what they’re saying.

So they’re engineered to filter out background noise that gets in the way.

Prescription hearing aids, on the other hand, deal not only with background noise and volume, but also with sound frequency. Hearing loss isn’t consistent across the audio spectrum. For example, aging often makes high-pitched sounds, such as sibilantly pronounced letters like “s,” “f,” and “th,” harder to hear. After an audiologist’s hearing test determines where in the spectrum your hearing losses are, a prescription hearing aid can be tuned, pitch by pitch, to boost those frequencies.

Unlike prescription hearing aids, OTC hearing aids:

  • Are self-fitting, which means they can’t be custom fitted to your ear.

  • Offer no in-person care after you purchase.

  • Come with shorter warranties.

Even though it’s not required, you may want to see an audiologist anyway, to measure your level of hearing loss and to get your OTC hearing aid tuned and fitted.

When you shop for an OTC hearing aid, here are some things to look out for:

  • What’s the return policy? Adjusting to a hearing aid takes time, so check the return policy printed on the packaging to see how long you have to make sure the one you bought works for you.

  • Do you need a smartphone for setup and adjustment? If you have trouble downloading apps or fiddling with your phone, you might want to choose an OTC hearing aid that doesn’t require added equipment to make it work.

  • What kind of battery? Taking out or replacing small batteries can be trickier than just plugging in a recharger.

  • What customer support will the manufacturer provide? Will it be only through a website? Can you talk to someone? What other kind of support is there? It varies from one brand to the next.

Here are some brands worth considering (and when you shop around, keep an eye out for sales):

  • Audien pricing starts at $99. Their hearing aids don’t have all the bells and whistles of higher-priced brands, but they can still improve hearing.

  • Audicus and Lively hearing aids’ technology includes Bluetooth streaming, rechargeable batteries, and feedback suppression to cut down background noise. The most advanced Audicus model, the Omni, costs $3398, which is well on the way to prescription hearing aid pricing.

  • There’s also a unique plan called Audicus Plus. For $99 a month, it gives you a pair of OTC hearing aids, upgrades them every 18 months, covers them for loss or damage, and provides online support from in-house hearing specialists.

So if you’ve been going without a hearing aid even though you might need one (like 70% of people with hearing losses, according to the American Academy of Audiology), it won’t hurt to take your time and make sure the OTC hearing aid you get is the one that’s right for you. “Just like glasses,” says Hadassah Kupfer, doctor of audiology at City University of New York, hearing aids “are not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

That’s equally true of senior care in general. No matter what their age, no two people are identical. All have their own individual likes and dislikes, values, priorities, preferences, schedules and interests. That’s why our very first step in custom-designing a coordinated senior care management plan at Senior Insights is to learn all about the individual we’ll be caring for. Our thorough three-part needs assessment goes beyond each client’s physical needs to learn about their emotional, cognitive, and psychosocial needs as well.

So please contact us to learn more. You’ll like what you hear.

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