(Last updated Mar 20, 2020)

OTC Hearing Aids – What You May Be Missing Out On

Last year, the bipartisan over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid bill was signed into law. But it’s not like we’ll immediately see OTC hearing aids in stores; it will take some time for the FDA to write up the regulations that manufacturers have to follow and in turn manufacturers will have to build this new generation of hearing aids. It might indeed be a couple of years before we can get our hands on these devices.

We’re still unsure how OTC hearing aids are going to look like in detail but what we already know is that they will address mild to moderate hearing loss only. We also know that OTC hearing aids won’t need to be sold by a professional hearing provider.

What does this mean for the consumer?

Well, the goal of the bill is to reduce the price of hearing aids so that they will become more affordable to a wider portion of the American population. While it’s clear that a drop in price will likely make OTC hearing aids attractive, there’s an ongoing argument against OTC hearing aids: if they don’t need to be sold by a hearing professional, will hearing aid users get the support they need?

When you buy a hearing aid now at a hearing provider, you get professional service. You get a hearing test, custom programming by a person you see face-to-face.

What will it be like with OTC hearing aids? If you can easily buy hearing aids off a shelf without speaking to a specialist, what are you going to miss out on?

1. Hearing test. Before you get regular hearing aids, a hearing professional will inspect the inside of your ears and will look for ear wax blockage or other issues. It could happen that you don’t need a hearing aid at all, but just that you have too much wax in your ears! The main purpose of a hearing test is to get a comprehensive picture of how you hear, which is instrumental when recommending the best hearing aid for you. If you want to know more on what to expect at a hearing test check out our article on the topic.

2. Training. A well-trained hearing professional will teach you how to use a hearing aid, show you how to perform regular maintenance on them and ensure you make the most out of its features.

3. Custom programming. Even with a similar audiogram, two people might need a different fitting (adjustments). This is because no two brains process sound in the same identical way. A hearing specialist will fine-tune your hearing aids to fit your prescription but also to fit what feels right for you.

4. Face-to-face support. If you value face-to-face support and learn better this way, the OTC hearing aids would take this service away from you, as you’d be just shopping hearing aids off a shelf, without needing to interact with any specialist.

5. High-end features. It’s possible that the OTC hearing aids won’t have high-end features such as direct connectivity with your smartphone, or highly sophisticated algorithms for hearing speech in noisy environments.

We believe that the support of a professional is instrumental to achieve positive outcomes, so we’re concerned that there will be a lot of unhappy OTC hearing aid users in coming years that won’t have the support they need. As always, if you have any thoughts or questions please write them in the comments!

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