Over-The-Counter Hearing Devices Are Not Equivalent to Traditional Hearing Aids

New research shows that even slight hearing loss can negatively affect your health and has been associated with cognitive issues, mental health, and even more frequent accidents and falls. 

In spite of this, many people ignore their hearing loss and avoid getting treatment such as hearing aids. We often hear that hearing aids are just too expensive.  

We get it. It is an investment. That’s why at The Hearing Center of Ohio we try to help clients afford the right hearing loss treatments for their individual needs. 

Luckily, breakthrough innovations, improved legislation, and insurance updates have made hearing aids more affordable than ever.

One development is that lower-cost devices, including over-the-counter amplifiers, are now available in many pharmacies. 

But buyer beware: Just because you can get a device over the counter, doesn’t mean you should attempt to treat your hearing loss on your own. Treating hearing loss is a science and starts with determining which frequencies you’re having trouble hearing. 

Understanding speech, for example, relies on the clarity of sound which is influenced by the way it fits, what settings you use and whether it’s strong enough to treat your hearing loss. That’s why the first step should always be a hearing test.

Why Do I Need a Hearing Test to Treat Hearing Loss?

Over-the-counter hearing aids are not strong enough to treat some types of hearing loss. So to truly hear clearly again, you need to start the entire process with a hearing test. This will make sure you’re purchasing the right device for your type of hearing loss, and will help get the right “fit”. Hearing aids, and even some over-the-counter devices, can be programmed to your specific hearing loss. But unless you know which frequencies you’re having difficulty hearing, you can’t take advantage of this function.

Close up of a person having their ear examined to check for hearing loss.

Volume Isn’t the Only Variable

Hearing aids are not miniature speakers. They do a lot more than amplify sound. Much like prescription glasses, hearing devices should be programmed to address the frequencies you no longer hear naturally. This is crucial to hearing clearly.

  • If you increase the volume indiscriminately across all frequencies, it’ll be painful in the frequencies you don’t have hearing loss. In fact, you risk damaging your hearing even more.
  • If it’s painful or even just uncomfortable, you may stop wearing it, and that would be both a waste of money and would mean you’re not treating your hearing loss.
  • Some consonants and vowels are spoken at different frequencies. In order to make out speech, you need to hear all frequencies at the same volume. So if your device isn’t programmed correctly, you still won’t hear the conversation well.

Not only should you get a hearing test before you purchase a hearing device, but regular hearing tests also help make sure your hearing hasn’t changed subtly and that they are still working well.

Part of Hearing Is Blocking
Out Background Noise

Hearing Aids also have other features you can’t find in over-the-counter devices. Modern hearing aids use artificial intelligence to help you block out background noise to focus better on voices. They can also include features to treat tinnitus, sync with your phone or TV, and some have advanced features such as translation or health-tracking features.

“Cheap Hearing Aids” vs Traditional Hearing Aids

As mentioned earlier, research has linked untreated hearing loss with serious health conditions such as cognitive decline and depression. But researchers think it may affect your health and quality of life in other ways as well. Already studies have indicated that untreated hearing loss is associated with increased healthcare costs by up to 40%. 

Some studies indicate that getting proper treatment helps to restore mental acuity and improve mental health. It pays to get a hearing test and make sure your treatment is appropriate to your needs.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) vs Prescription Hearing Aids

There are two categories of hearing aids on the market, so let’s compare the differences.

OTC Hearing Aids

  • No professional fitting or support provided
  • For ages 18+
  • No hearing evaluation is required
  • One size fits most No state requirements for return policy
  • For perceived mild to moderate hearing loss
  • Come with self-guided instructions

Prescription Hearing Aids

  • Hearing aid programmed and supported by a professional
  • For all ages
  • A hearing evaluation is required and provided FREE at the Hearing Center of Ohio
  • Standard and customized options are available
  • Return policy is mandated by the state
  • For any degree of hearing loss; hearing aid is programmed to the individual hearing loss profile (audiogram)
  • Follow-up care and instructions provided by a professional.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing

Aids Are they right for you?

Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are a new category of hearing aids that can be purchased without a professional hearing evaluation. They are made for adults 18 years of age and older with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss.

Can OTC hearing aids help your hearing loss? Answer these questions to find out.

Hearing health

Check all that apply to you:

I am younger than 18.
I hear differently out of one ear compared to the other.
I have had a sudden change in hearing in one or both ears in the past few months.
I think I might have a build up of earwax or something else in one or both of my ears.
I have taken over-the-counter or prescription medication that causes hearing loss in the past.
I have had chemotherapy and/or radiation in the head and neck area.
I have noticed drainage from one or both of my ears recently.
I experience pain or discomfort in one or both of my ears.
I have experienced balance problems or dizziness.

If you checked any one of the statements above, you should have a hearing evaluation before purchasing OTC hearing aids.

Hearing in different environments

Think about your hearing level, then check what best describes you. Check all that apply to you:

I have good to excellent hearing, I do not have problems hearing what people say.
In noisy environments, I have good hearing, I can understand conversation.
In a noisy environment, I may have difficulty following or participating in conversations.
I have difficulty hearing a voice at normal volume.
I can only hear loud speech.
I can only hear a voice if it is directly in my ear.
In a noisy environment, I have great difficulty hearing conversations.
In a noisy environment, I cannot hear any speech.
I cannot hear any speech or loud sound.

If you checked any option in RED, an OTC hearing aid may NOT be right for you.