With the addition of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids to the market, choices have become even more confusing for consumers. In this blog post, we’ll address the differences between prescription and over-the-counter hearing aids, and the types of hearing aids now available.
Over-the-Counter or Prescription Hearing Aids?
OTC hearing aids were recently approved by the FDA. Think of OTC hearing aids as entry-level products. These hearing aids are intended for adults with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss who are 18 years old or older. They are now available directly in stores and online. They are not meant for children or for adults who have severe hearing loss or significant difficulty hearing.
Prices are determined by the manufacturers, but a “best guess” is that OTC hearing aids will run $800-$1,500 a pair. In addition, the individual is responsible for fitting their own hearing aids and servicing them and there is no mandated return policy, so the consumer needs to understand their options before purchasing.
Prescription hearing aids are designed for individuals who have more severe hearing loss. These hearing aids are dispensed and fit by state-licensed, highly trained hearing healthcare professionals, such as audiologists.
Prescription hearing aids are programmed specific to the individual’s hearing loss and provide the higher levels of amplification needed to help someone with a more severe hearing loss. Prescription hearing aids typically include more advanced features such as Bluetooth connectivity and directional microphones and cost between $1,500 and $5,400 a pair.
Types of Hearing Aids
Even though a comprehensive audiological evaluation isn’t required for the purchase of OTC hearing aids, professional organizations recommend having one before purchasing any hearing aid, OTC or prescription.
After having a hearing evaluation, the audiologist may recommend OTC or prescription hearing aids for you, taking your lifestyle and personal goals into consideration and guiding you to the most suitable choice and hearing aid style.
Hearing aid styles and technology can be confusing, even if you have been wearing hearing aids for years. In addition, OTC and prescription hearing aids may come in many of these styles. An audiologist can help guide you through this selection process.
A common misconception is that a specific prescription hearing aid technology can be purchased only in certain styles. The technology refers to the computer chip and signal processing that you are purchasing. The style refers to the type of case that houses the technology. That means the smallest style isn’t necessarily the most expensive or the best.
Common Hearing Aid Styles
Open-fit technology keeps the ears open to sound, rather than plugging up the ear with the hearing aid. The frequencies that you don’t need amplified travel normally through the ear canal, remaining natural and comfortable, while the frequencies at which you have hearing loss are amplified. With an open fitting, sounds at the eardrum arrive directly from both the open ear and the hearing instrument.
Behind-the-Ear (BTE) Aids
All electronic parts of the BTE aid are contained in a small plastic case that rests behind the ear. The case is connected to an earmold by a piece of clear tubing. These types of hearing aids provide the most amplification for a full range of hearing needs, including for the most severe hearing loss.
These aids look similar to the behind-the-ear hearing aid with a unique difference — the speaker of the hearing aid is placed inside the ear canal, and a thin wire replaces the acoustic tube of the BTE aid. These aids also offer cosmetic and listening advantages for many adults. These can be utilized as open-fit technology or more closed when more power is required.
In-the-Ear (ITE) Aids
All parts of the ITE aid are contained in a custom shell that fits in the outer part of the ear canal. These aids are larger than completely-in-the-canal aids and, for some people, may be easier to handle than smaller deep-fitting hearing aids.
Invisible-in-Canal (IIC) and Completely-in-the-Canal (CIC) Aids
These aids are contained in a tiny case that is custom fit partly or completely into the ear canal. They are the smallest aids available and offer some cosmetic advantages. Our audiologists can determine if you are a good candidate for invisible-in-canal or completely-in-the-canal technology and further discuss their pros and cons.
Lyric Extended-Wear Hearing Aids
These hearing aids are only available by prescription, fit deep in the ear canal, and are designed to be worn continuously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for several weeks at a time. You can wear the device during daily activities, like exercising, showering, talking on the phone, and sleeping. These hearing aids are purchased on a yearly subscription basis. The audiologist replaces the device(s) in the clinic approximately every 120 days. This removes the need to change batteries and perform daily maintenance. The ideal extended-wear candidate is an individual with mild to moderate hearing loss who enjoys an active lifestyle.
To determine which type and style of hearing aid would work best for you, schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist.