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Over the Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids: Problems, Vs, Cost, and Best

November 22nd, 2022 | 5 min. read

By Alissa Vorous, AuD

OTC Hearing Aids Houston TX 2

Are you considering over the counter hearing aids? Recent changes at the FDA mean that anyone can now purchase OTC hearing aids without a hearing test, a prescription, or a professional fitting.

It sounds like a great theory. In reality, there are many problems with OTC hearing aids. After all, hearing loss is a complex healthcare issue — and no one should settle for a treatment that's simply "good enough." 

While OTC hearing aid cost does tend to be lower than premium hearing aids, the classic saying "you get what you pay for" truly applies here. And when it comes to hearing, "what you pay for" should be life-changing and transformational, not simply transactional.

Before making a decision, read on to learn about OTC hearing aids vs premium hearing aids. The difference may surprise you. 

Want To Meet With An Audiologist In Houston To Learn More About Over The Counter Hearing Aids?

The Houston Hearing Center has eight convenient locations throughout the Houston, Texas, area, with expert audiologists available to review the pros and cons of over-the-counter hearing aids.



What are Over the Counter Hearing Aids?

First, the basics: What, exactly, are over the counter hearing aids, and what sets them apart from premium hearing aids?

OTC hearing aids are devices that are designed to treat perceived mild to moderate hearing loss in those 18 years of age and older. They're not meant to be used by those with severe hearing loss or for those who have significant difficulty hearing. 

The "over the counter" designation means that consumers can purchase these medical devices without a diagnosis or a prescription from a medical professional. This was not always the case.

In 2022, FDA rules changed. For the first time, hearing aids could be bought without a prescription, an exam, or even a fitting. The rule change was meant to make it easier for people to access hearing aids.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 15 percent of Americans over the age of 18 experience trouble hearing. The numbers grow with age; about a quarter of Americans age 65 to 74 experience hearing difficulties, while half of those over 75 have trouble hearing. Hearing loss is a widespread healthcare issue. 

Unfortunately, only 16 to 30 percent of those who could benefit from hearing aids ever use them, and people tend to wait an average of 10 years before trying hearing aids. 

Of course, more people taking care of their hearing health is a good thing. But all hearing devices are not created equally. While OTC hearing aid cost may be lower, they come with several problems, and are not the best solution for many people with hearing loss.


Problems with OTC Hearing Aids

In order to make an informed decision about which type of hearing aids are best for you, it's important to compare OTC hearing aids vs premium hearing aids. Let's take a look at some of the issues associated with over the counter hearing aids. 

Personal Sound Amplifier Products

OTC hearing devices may be marketed as hearing aids, when they're actually Personal Sound Amplifier Products or PSAPs. These devices do exactly what their name suggests: they amplify sound. 

Unfortunately, simple sound amplification is indiscriminate — PSAPs amplify all sounds. This actually makes it harder to focus on the sounds you actually want and need to hear. 

For instance, you may wear PSAPs into a crowded restaurant in the hopes of better hearing your dinner companion's voice. But along with amplifying that one voice, the PSAP also amplifies every other sound, like banging dishes, clattering silverware, background music, and every other conversation taking place in the room. 

In contrast, premium hearing aids amplify selected sounds, such as voices, while buffering or muting undesirable background noise. A PSAP is like a stereo with a volume knob that goes either up or down. A premium hearing aid is like a stereo with an equalizer that can be fine-tuned. 

No Hearing Test Required

Speaking of fine tuning, consider that OTC hearing aids don't require a hearing test. This is despite the fact that OTC aids are only approved for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. 

But without a hearing test, how does anyone know the extent and type of their hearing loss? Self-perception of one's hearing is subjective. In contrast, premium hearing aids require comprehensive testing by a medical professional. 

Without professional evaluation, it's impossible to accurately gauge the extent, type, and cause of hearing impairment. After all, hearing care is healthcare, and hearing loss may stem from many different causes, such as wax build up, medication, tumors, and other medical issues.

Without an exam, pinpointing the type and extent of hearing loss with any accuracy is just guesswork... why take the chance on paying for OTC hearing aids that aren't designed for your specific type of hearing loss?

One Size Does Not Fit All 

Another one of the problems with OTC hearing aids is related to fit — specifically, that the devices aren't tailored to meet the needs of each individual user. Unlike premium hearing aids, which require a fitting by a medical professional, OTC aids simply offer factory pre-sets. 

While these may help some people, hearing loss varies greatly from individual to individual. The professional fitting process ensures hearing aids are comfortable and secure. It also involves fine-tuning the devices so they offer precise and customized hearing help.

With premium hearing aids, you'll receive comprehensive testing and analysis to identify your precise hearing needs. Hearing aids are then calibrated based on this scientific data, so volumes are set for the exact frequencies you need.

Think of OTC hearing aids vs premium hearing aids in the same way as you think of OTC reading glasses vs prescription glasses. You expect reading glasses to boost your ability to see fine print... but you certainly wouldn't expect OTC reading glasses to offer adequate overall vision correction. To ensure your eyesight is properly corrected, you must get an individual prescription from a vision professional. 

Hearing issues are no different. Working with a professional audiologist ensures you'll have hearing aids that are designed specifically for you, in both fit and function. 

Everyone's hearing loss is different. That means one-size-fits-all hearing aids don't actually fit all. 

Increased Patient Dissatisfaction and Returns

All of these problems with OTC hearing aids — from lack of prescription and personalized fit, to the fact that most simply amplify all sounds — lead to one unfortunate result: patient dissatisfaction. 

Because OTC hearing aids are one-size-fits-all, there's simply no way to achieve a customized fit. This leads to discomfort, which causes many people to give up on the devices. 

Plus, lack of customization means OTC hearing aids can't provide individualized treatment. And as we've said before, everyone's hearing needs are different. Attempting to treat hearing loss using less than the best devices is a recipe for frustration. 

These shortfalls also mean that patients are more likely to experience dissatisfaction, and many seek to return their OTC aids. But there's a catch there, too: The average return policy on an OTC device is a mere 15 to 30 days. 

The process of selecting and purchasing OTC hearing aids, attempting to fit them, and adjusting the settings to see what works takes time. (Keep in mind, you're doing all this on your own, guessing at your level of hearing loss, with no professional help!)

Overall, the return period is simply too short to evaluate whether over the counter hearing aids will even work for you. 


OTC Hearing Aids vs Houston Hearing Center Hearing Aids 

Now that you understand the differences between OTC hearing aids and premium hearing aids, what does this mean for you and those you care about?

It's easy: You, your spouse, your parents, and your grandparents deserve the best results possible. "Good enough" isn't acceptable when it comes to hearing.

OTC hearing aids offer simple sound amplification, but BrainHearing is key. Premium hearing aids such as the Oticon More 1 provide deep neural information and support, so your brain can make sense of sound. After all, we hear with our brains, not our ears.  


Cost of OTC Hearing Aids vs The Best Hearing Aids in Houston

Though the cost of over the counter hearing aids may be lower up front, you get what you pay for. In fact, many patients who choose OTC hearing aids end up coming to us, due to the lack of satisfaction and support.

Most OTC hearing aids range from $100 to $1975 per pair. While this is less than premium hearing aids you'll find at our Houston facility, there's a huge difference in the quality and experience that only comes with being fitted with a premium hearing aid.

You deserve the best, and you'll find it at Houston Hearing Center. It all comes down to this simple truth: Hearing care is healthcare, and "good enough" is not good enough when it comes to your health.

Over the counter hearing aids are transactional. You deserve hearing care that's transformational. You deserve the best hearing aids in Houston.

Contact Houston Hearing Center today to learn how we can transform your hearing... and change your life. 


Alissa Vorous, AuD