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  • Writer's pictureDr. Brian James

Where do I get an OTC hearing aid? A Guide 2023

OTC hearing aids will now become widely available in pharmacies, stores and doctors' offices, as well as online.

*According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, if you have any of the following health conditions a prescription hearing aid fit by a licensed audiologist or hearing instrument specialist will work better for you:

  • Unilateral (one-sided hearing loss)

  • Sudden recent hearing loss

  • Take or have taken medication known to cause hearing loss

  • Have a history of chemotherapy or radiation in head/neck area

  • Have constant pain in ears

  • Have unique ear anatomy or history of ear disease like chronic infections

  • Have frequent dizziness or chronic tinnitus

Am I a candidate for an OTC hearing aid?

If you have mild hearing loss and are holding back because of the cost of hearing aids, OTC hearing aids will be low-cost and will give you a taste of the advantages of better hearing. An OTC hearing aid will help you if you notice hearing issues only now and again—usually, in noisy places, groups or when you can’t see who is talking.

What does "mild" look like in real life? You likely have mild or moderate hearing loss if:

  • You have been told by family members that you need a hearing aid.

  • You can't high-pitched sounds, a sign of high-frequency hearing loss, which is a common type of age-related hearing loss.

  • You frequently turn up the TV or phone to hear better, to the point that loved ones complain about the noise.

  • You feel like you can hear but not always understand.

Often your family and friends will notice your hearing loss first. They might complain that they need to repeat themselves, you don’t hear them shouting from the other room, or you turn the TV volume up high. Learn about these and other early warning signs of hearing loss.

Who is not a candidate for OTC hearing aids?

OTC hearing aids are not meant for everyone who has hearing loss. We recommend our in-depth piece on who should not get OTC hearing aids.

If you have trouble hearing conversations even in quiet settings or miss loud sounds like cars honking when you drive or announcements in public buildings, your hearing loss is more severe than OTC hearing aids are designed to address, notes the National Institutes of Health.

Note: You need to see a doctor quickly if you have a sudden hearing loss, sudden plunge in your hearing (even if it improves), a big difference between one ear and the other, or tinnitus (ringing) in only one ear. These are possible signs of a medical problem. After it is evaluated and treated, you will know what kind of hearing aid will help you.

Things to consider when buying an OTC hearing aid

The non-profit hearing loss advocacy group Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) recommends these questions to ask when buying an OTC hearing aid:

  • Can you return the hearing aids? Is there a free trial period? Payment plan?

  • How do you customize the hearing aids? For example, via a smartphone app.

  • Does it have telecoil or Bluetooth?

  • Can you adjust the hearing settings on the go?

  • How long is the battery life?

"Make sure to pay close attention to the return policy. In case OTC hearing aids don’t work out, you’ll want to know the process for returning them," recommends Michigan audiologist Amy Sarow. "Also, is there any person you can reach out to for support or questions? Some manufacturers have a phone number you can call or other options for support. It’s good to know your options in case you need them."

The finalized OTC hearing aid rule in depth

In simple terms, the new rule applies to hearing aids for adults 18 and older with "perceived" mild to moderate hearing loss. Hearing aids in children or for profound to severe hearing loss will still be prescription devices.

In their announcement on the finalized rule, the FDA explained a few changes to the proposed rule based on public comments:

"The final rule incorporates several changes from the proposed rule, including lowering the maximum sound output to reduce the risk to hearing from over-amplification of sound, revising the insertion depth limit in the ear canal, requiring that all OTC hearing aids have a user-adjustable volume control, and simplifying the phrasing throughout the required device labeling to ensure it is easily understood. The final rule also includes performance specifications and device design requirements specific to OTC hearing aids."

The FDA also finalized rules clarify the difference between personal sound amplification devices (PSAPs) and OTC hearing aids, to help better inform consumers that PSAPs are not for hearing loss.

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