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OTC Hearing Aids

 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has defined over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids as medical devices designed for adults aged 18 years and older with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss. Before this summer, only prescription hearing aids were available. OTC hearing aids can now be purchased directly by consumers online or in stores where healthcare devices are sold, such as pharmacies and Best Buy or Costco. These devices make sounds louder, enabling people with hearing difficulties to communicate and participate in daily activities. Despite hearing loss affecting 25 percent of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 and 50 percent of people over the age of 75, people wait an average of 10 years before buying hearing aids due to reasons such as underestimating their hearing loss and cost concerns

Who is it Suitable For?

However, OTC hearing aids are not for everyone, and several factors must be considered before purchase. They are designed for mild to moderate hearing loss and lack the amplification needed for moderate to severe or profound hearing loss. There are also two types of OTC hearing aids: self-fit and non-self-fit. Self-fit hearing aids come with a built-in hearing assessment enabling users to determine their threshold level of hearing, leading to a prescribed hearing aid setting and the ability to fine-tune. Non-self-fit hearing aids have preset volume levels that users can choose from but are not tailored to a person’s individual hearing needs.

Is an Audiology Test Required?

Although OTC hearing aids do not require a prescription or medical exam, consulting with a hearing health professional may be beneficial. An audiologist can assess the fit of an OTC hearing aid and ensure its settings are appropriately adjusted for the user. They can also provide instructions on how to use and maintain the device. Additionally, the costs of prescription and OTC hearing aid services and devices at Mass Eye and Ear are now charged separately, providing patients with more flexibility in how they pay for hearing aids and services.

It is also essential to seek medical evaluation for hearing loss in one ear or noticeably different hearing loss in each ear, tinnitus (ringing) in one or both ears, sudden or rapidly worsening hearing loss, pain or discomfort, a suspicion that something is lodged in the ear canal, infection or drainage from the ear, dizziness, or vertigo. The field of OTC hearing aids is expected to grow as technology advances, leading to more innovative devices.