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Prescription versus Perception – OTC (Over-the-Counter) Hearing Aids

If you have been watching the news or any social media lately, you may have heard all about the movement of hearing aids in the industry and their immediate availability to the consumer as of October! This is great news, considering only 16% of individuals aged 20-69 who could benefit from hearing loss treatment pursue hearing aids. * The average time from when an individual first suspects hearing loss to when they seek evaluation and treatment is 7 years. OTC hearing aids reduce the barrier to hearing health care as well as the costs associated with prescription hearing aids and may give many individuals the opportunity to hear what they have been missing. This is important because there are health risks to hearing loss as well. Untreated hearing loss has been linked to several comorbidities-increased fall risk, diabetes, loneliness, depression, and cognitive decline or dementia, to name a few.

There are, of course, caveats to OTC hearing aids that consumers should be aware of. Although these devices are appropriate for individuals with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss, they are not appropriate for those with greater degrees of hearing loss or certain medical conditions, nor are they appropriate for children. When purchasing OTC hearing aids, there is no formal hearing evaluation by an audiologist required, leaving patients to “self-diagnose” their levels of hearing loss. With an OTC hearing aid, there is no prescription, therefore, there is the potential for over or under-amplification as the hearing aid is set based off perception of sound. A prescription is set by a licensed audiologist or hearing instrument specialist utilizing special equipment that allows the provider to verify the amplification and other specifications of the hearing aid. This ensures accuracy and takes the guesswork out of the process. Additionally, OTC devices do not come with a follow up care plan or rehabilitation and there is no professional to monitor hearing levels over time or provide troubleshooting to the device. While there are many benefits to wearing hearing aids, OTC devices will not be the entire solution to hearing loss.

It is important to remember some individuals may not be a candidate for OTC hearing aids. If at any point you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should seek the attention of a certified and licensed audiologist to evaluate and treat your hearing concerns.

- Difficult understanding conversations with your over-the-counter hearing aid(s)

- Experiencing dizziness or feeling of imbalance

- Experiencing drainage of any kind from one or both ears

- Experiencing pain, fullness, or discomfort in one or both ears

- Ringing or noise in one or both ears

- Any sudden changes in hearing in one or both ears

*National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2021, March 25).

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