Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids Vs. Prescription Hearing Aids: What’s the Difference?

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Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids have recently been made available for purchase at pharmacies, retail stores, and some clinics throughout the U.S. These devices differ from personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) as they are FDA-regulated and classified as medical devices. They are typically self-fit and a prescription is unnecessary. While these devices may work well for certain individuals, it is important to understand what sets them apart from prescription hearing aids and why prescription hearing aids may be better suited to your specific needs.

Who is eligible to wear OTC hearing aids?

Those 18 years of age or older with a perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss who have a tough time understanding speech in complex listening environments are eligible to wear OTC hearing aids. For pediatrics and adults with more severe hearing loss and difficulties communicating, prescription hearing aids are necessary. Even though a hearing evaluation and diagnosis is not required to purchase and wear OTC hearing aids, I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in hearing aids to get their hearing professionally tested to get a better understanding of which option is best. For more complex medical conditions such as sudden hearing loss, ear pressure/pain/drainage, or dizziness, I strongly urge you to seek a consultation with an otolaryngologist before pursuing any hearing technology.

Which should you choose?

Audiologists and hearing instrument specialists are best suited to evaluate factors that may determine when prescription hearing aids are the right option. For example:

  • While OTC hearing aids are typically “one-size-fits-most,” anatomical factors such as narrow ear canals may impact comfort and wearability of the devices. Prescription hearing aids are much more customizable and can even be molded to the specific shape of the user’s ear canals.
  • Prescription devices are much more programmable and can be fine-tuned by your audiologist or hearing instrument specialist across the frequency spectrum based on the information obtained during the hearing evaluation. Ultimately, what this means is that there are many more adjustments that can be made with prescription hearing aids to get you hearing as best as possible.
  • Many providers, such as Audiologic Services, offer bundled follow-up care with the purchase of prescription hearing aids that includes but is not limited to counseling, programming adjustments, and maintenance.

Regardless of which type of hearing aid you decide to pursue, we at Audiologic Services are here to help guide you to making the best decision based on your individual wants and needs.