Over The Counter (OTC) Vs. Prescription Hearing Aids

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I have been getting some questions from patients recently regarding the difference between over the counter (OTC) and prescription hearing aids. OTC will be a new category of hearing aids likely to come out within the next year to help people with mild to possibly moderate hearing loss and who may not be ready for an FDA approved “prescription” hearing aid fitted by a licensed audiologist.

Approximately 48 million Americans suffer from some degree of hearing loss which if left untreated can negatively impact their quality of life even with a mild loss. Untreated hearing loss can lead to a host of health issues such as depression, mental acuity issues, harm in professional and family relationships, and sub-optimal performance at work and school.  Most significantly, a John Hopkins study that tracked 639 adults for nearly 12 years, Johns Hopkins expert Frank Lin, M.D., Ph. D., and his colleagues found that mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk.

Because hearing loss is a gradual process and normally doesn’t happen overnight, it often takes people an average of 7 years from the time they realize they have a loss to seek help for it. The idea for OTC hearing aids is to provide an option for people with a mild loss to encourage them to get help for their hearing loss earlier. OTC hearing aids will be easy to purchase from existing hearing care providers, online companies such as BOSE as well as from our prescriptionhearing.com website, and other retailers once these products become available next year.

Read more about FDA proposed OTC guidelines.

So, what will the differences likely be between an OTC versus a “prescription” hearing aid? To start, an OTC hearing aid will be designed for simple mild to moderate hearing losses and will not be meant for more moderate/severe or complex losses. Also, OTC hearing aids will not be required to be purchased from a licensed professional and the patient will be able to make some fitting adjustments themselves. The easiest comparison to help people understand this new category of hearing aids is it’s like “cheater” eyeglasses purchased at your local Walgreens. These types of glasses are designed to help people just starting to have vision problems. They are an easy solution until a person’s vision declines to the point requiring intervention from an optometrist who can fit them with a pair of prescription eyeglasses to precisely fit their vision needs. Like vision, a more significant hearing loss requires intervention from an audiologist who can conduct comprehensive testing and fit patients with “prescription” hearing aids that are precisely fit the individuals hearing loss. Prescription hearing aids also have advanced sound processing features that are set by the audiologist to the individual hearing loss and lifestyle for the best possible results.

It’s important to point out that OTC hearing aids will likely not get FDA approval until late 2022 and so the details about this product are not yet finalized. If you currently have questions or concerns about your hearing, you should seek help from an audiologist. There are currently very good options available for all mild to severe hearing losses.

Take our free online hearing test to see if you could benefit from hearing aids. We offer many options, including Blue Tooth enabled hearing aids and low monthly payments.


Photo by Simone Secci on Unsplash

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