It’s been several months since over-the-counter hearing aids became available in the United States and today, questions remain as products are developed, released, and utilized. In addition, we have more to learn about how these products work and how the public responds.
Over-the-counter hearing aids likely have a place in the market and may be useful for some individuals, but the public and professionals are still trying to navigate that and determine which products are appropriate and which are not.
Here are three reasons many people are finding prescription hearing aids from doctoral-level audiologists are still the best solution for treating their hearing loss:
1. No prescription needed. It’s true that over-the-counter hearing aids don’t require a diagnostic hearing evaluation and/or a hearing prescription. Initially, this was thought to be a selling point. There would be no appointments to keep or trips to the audiologist’s office, and none of the related fees.
The reality is that it’s difficult to determine what your hearing loss is without a diagnostic hearing evaluation, which is typically conducted by a hearing health professional, such as an audiologist.
In addition, over-the-counter hearing aids are appropriate only for individuals with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss. But again, without a diagnostic evaluation, how can you know if your hearing loss qualifies?
Bottom line: All professional associations, including the Academy of Doctors of Audiology and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, recommend a diagnostic hearing evaluation before purchasing any type of hearing aids, over-the-counter or prescription. It really is in the individual’s best interest to find out if they have a hearing loss, and if so, how severe it is, before buying any hearing aid. If the evaluation indicates the individual’s hearing loss is severe-to-profound, prescription hearing aids are really the only option available, and even people with a mild-to-moderate hearing loss may prefer to wear prescription hearing aids.
2. There’s something to be said for professional service. Over-the-counter hearing aids typically don’t include the services provided by an audiologist. In most cases, these devices are purchased online or in a retail store, and then the individual must fit and program the devices themselves. Some brands do offer online back-up help, but there’s no in-person support to help the individual.
On the other hand, in-person customized service is available with most prescription hearing aids. Not only are these devices fit and programmed using the patient’s diagnostic hearing evaluation, but the audiologist can assist with connecting and activating the device’s many features, such as Bluetooth streaming and artificial intelligence. Audiologists also help patients stay on top of how well their hearing aids function by scheduling routine maintenance checks, as well as hearing checks for patients and make sure their ears are clear from wax. Plus, if a hearing aid malfunctions, gets lost or breaks, they are available to help with repairs and service.
Bottom line: Though there is a cost associated with their services, audiologists are doctoral-level professionals who offer valuable expertise and support that many patients find worthwhile and necessary. In addition, studies have shown that this partnership between patient and professional is key to the individual’s success with wearing hearing aids.
3. Price is only one part of the equation. One justification for the legislation making over-the-counter hearing aids available was that lower cost devices would be more accessible and affordable, reducing the potential price barrier. While over-the-counter hearing aids are less expensive that prescription devices, they also aren’t as inexpensive as many people originally thought they might be. Instead of $50 to $300 hearing aids, over-the-counter devices are now running in the $800 to $1,600 a pair range. Remember, these hearing aids don’t include the services of an audiologist or advanced warranties prescription hearing aids do. Returns and warranties for over-the-counter hearing aids also should be checked carefully before purchase. Plus, the individual must fit and program these devices themselves.
Admittedly, prescription hearing aids do cost more, typically starting at $1,500 a pair and going up to $5,400 a pair, but these devices are usually better technology than over-the-counter devices and include the professional services an individual needs to be successful when wearing hearing aids.
Bottom line: Before you purchase over-the-counter hearing aids, be sure to compare the cost of the devices with prescription hearing aids. No matter what your hearing loss, you may find you would be happier with lower priced prescription devices that include the professional support, warranty and repair services you may need as a hearing aid user.
Remember, over-the-counter hearing aids aren’t inexpensive, and the cost doesn’t include the level of support and service a doctoral-level audiologist can provide you. And even if you do decide to go it alone, it’s still a good idea to have a diagnostic hearing evaluation so you know whether you have a hearing loss and if so, how severe it is.