Hearing aids can be grouped into two broad categories: prescription hearing aids and OTC (over-the counter) hearing aids. While they may seem similar at first glance, they’re actually quite different devices.
The distinctions are important because good hearing is crucial to living a happier and more sociable life.
But first, a bit of history…
How OTC Hearing Aids Came to Be
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act was passed in 2017. It mandated that the Food and Drug Administration allows hearing aids without a prescription, and therefore over-the-counter. There was a 2020 deadline to implement the bill, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was slow to act.
Then in August 2022, the FDA finally issued a binding rule to improve access to hearing aids. This formalizes that 2017 bipartisan legislation, and now consumers with mild to moderate hearing losses can purchase hearing aids directly from stores or online retailers. No medical exam, prescription, or fitting adjustment is needed.
Walgreens now sells hearing aids over the counter for $799 a pair, while CVS offers similar devices at prices ranging from $199 to $999. And Best Buy provides OTC hearing aids with prices ranging from $200 to $3,000.
While these offerings seem cheap at first glance, OTC hearing aids have their limitations. You have to be over 18 to get an OTC hearing aid. And your hearing loss must be deemed “not severe” or an OTC hearing aid is off-limits for you too.
What’s more, think of simple reading glasses as compared to prescription glasses. You can get reading glasses just about anywhere, but do they really meet your personalized needs?
Reading glasses are fine if you only need magnification or clarification when reading up close (like a book or a phone screen). Otherwise, they’re not much help at all.
It’s the same with prescription hearing aids as compared to their OTC counterparts. Prescription hearing aids offer a greater variety of features and are more customized to your needs than OTC devices.
Prescription hearing aids also provide noise reduction assistance and more innovative adjustment and customization features to match the needs imposed by changing noise environments.
So, which is best for you?
Should You Visit an Audiologist before Buying an OTC Hearing Aid?
Even if you think you’re a candidate for an OTC hearing aid because your hearing loss appears to be mild or moderate, you should see an audiologist anyway.
That’s because your audiologist could save you money over the long term. For example, an audiologist can determine if your hearing difficulties are simply due to earwax or fluid behind your ear. These are easily treatable and don’t require hearing aids at all.
A professional hearing test will also be able to identify other conditions such as ear growths (acoustic neuromas) which require surgery or radiation therapy to correct. Such afflictions will only worsen and they aren’t conditions an OTC device can help resolve.
And even if you don’t have any such complications, a good audiologist will be able to determine your specific individual hearing needs. Accurate professional hearing test results will help you choose the most suitable OTC hearing aid once you’re ready to buy.
So, start with a test and proceed from there. It’s the safest and most sensible way to begin.
You’ll quickly know the answer to the question “Do I need a prescription or not?”
What’s Next with A Prescription-vs.-OTC Decision
If you’re worried about a hearing loss and are considering hearing aids, visit our office here in Sarasota.
We’re located near the Gulf Gate Mall and we’ll be happy to help you with a hearing evaluation and anything else you need.
We’ll perform an accurate, professional test so you know your results are trustworthy. We’re also a local “go to” personal resource you can consult as needed.
The result is that you’ll soon know if OTC hearing aids can meet your needs or if prescription hearing aids would be a better fit for you.
Even if you already believe OTC hearing aids are your best choice due to cost, you might be surprised to learn we offer prescription hearing aids at the same level of investment as OTC hearing devices.
Please contact us if you have any further questions about your or your loved one’s hearing loss.
After all, we’re always here to help! You can request an appointment right here.