Are Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids (OTC) Worth It?

You’ve probably seen ads for over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids available online or via mail order. There are even big-box stores that now carry them. And the attraction of OTC hearing aids is easy to understand:
  • You don’t need to consult with an Hearing Specialist in advance
  • OTC hearing aids are marketed as aesthetically pleasing
  • They’re “billed” as being comparable to normal hearing aids
Most importantly, they are much cheaper – averaging between $370 and $1,500 each. But do these over-the-counter hearing aids actually deliver? The only way to know for sure is to try them out. If you have money to waste – go for it.However, you’ll eventually discover what many before you already have…

The costs do not outweigh the benefits.

Worse still, you probably won’t end up wearing them long-term (even after shelling out money). In fact, a longitudinal study by MarkeTrak determined that those with hearing loss only wear their OTC hearing aids 30% of the time – compared to 83% satisfaction rate for prescribed hearing aids, based on Marketrak 10 survey.

The Truth About OTC Hearing Aids.

OTC hearing aids are not inherently bad. No matter what model or brand you use, there will likely be some increase in overall loudness.But over-the-counter hearing aids suffer from several limitations:
  • OTC assistive hearing technology is an unregulated market, meaning there is no guarantee of quality.
  • They are designed for mild to moderate hearing loss – despite being marketed for everyone. This explains why most advertisements appear as infomercials during daytime soaps and late-night TV.
  • Lower costs typically mean less functionality. Some OTC hearing aids are programmable, but you need to send them to the seller for customization. And prior to that, you must take an online hearing test.
But the biggest drawback has nothing to do with the hearing aids themselves. Even if you find reputable, high quality, programmable hearing aids online, the benefits will be limited without the help of an Hearing Specialist.Ironically, this is precisely what over-the-counter manufacturers try to pitch – i.e. a chance to cut out the middleman and save money. However, Hearing Specialists are not middlemen, and not using one may actually cost you a lot more money, time and a risk to your health in the long run.Below are 3 reasons why.

1. Proper Testing

Hearing loss is caused by different factors, including infection, age, disease, medications, undetected tumors, injury and overexposure to loud noises.Most TV infomercials fail to mention these causes.However, having an Hearing Specialist evaluate your hearing to determine the exact type and cause is an essential step in the hearing aid selection process.

2. Fitting & Customization

Proper screening helps establish a baseline. As you try out different hearing aid options, your Hearing Specialist must perform additional testing to ensure the fitting and customizations are appropriate.This step is much harder with OTC hearing aids since the “one-size-fits-all” approach is a critical component of their low-cost business model. As a result, many wearers simply stop using their over-the-counter hearing aids due to discomfort.You might be thinking,“No problem… Even if they’re uncomfortable, poorly fitted and not optimized, OTC hearing aids are cheaper… So they’re better than nothing, right?”Wrong.There is one final piece of the puzzle.

3. Auditory Deprivation

Our ears are what receive auditory information, but the brain is what ultimately processes these signals as “sound.”This function is malleable since the brain is essentially a muscle that:
  • Strengthens from usage
  • Weakens from inactivity
This means wearing incorrect hearing aids for prolonged periods can actually train the brain to no longer receive or need certain auditory pathways.
  • Your hearing ability slowly declines
  • Sound clarity soon begins to suffer
  • Your brain works harder to fill in the gaps
The above is known as “auditory deprivation.” And remember – you paid for this.The process is similar to wearing the wrong eyeglass prescription for extended periods. Over time, your eyesight will worsen, and you’ll likely get headaches as well.Auditory deprivation is such a common problem that the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), American Academy of Audiology (AAA), International Hearing Society (IHS), and Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) recently petitioned the FDA to conduct more oversight of over-the-counter hearing aids.The goal of this industry-wide push is to make OTC hearing aid safer for the average consumer, with:
  • Stricter product guidelines and manufacturing standards
  • Greater transparency about the risks of unregulated hearing aids
These recommendations haven’t been implemented yet. And until they are, you’re potentially gambling with your own health if you choose to wear OTC hearing aids that haven’t been properly fitted and customized by a licensed Hearing Specialist.If you’re experiencing difficulty hearing or understanding words, please don’t wait. Call Schmidt’s Optical and Hearing™  at 772-286-4327 to schedule a free hearing evaluation with our Board Certified Hearing Aid Specialist. 
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