The Real Pros And Cons of Over The Counter Hearing Aids

The ability to hear is vital for a person's quality of life, and while hearing loss is a serious issue that impacts millions of Americans, hearing aids remain inaccessible and prohibitively expensive for many. In response to this, the FDA is expected to release requirements for over the counter hearing aids intended for use by those with mild to moderate hearing loss. But before diving into off-the-shelf options when they are made available, here are some important considerations to keep in mind.

Professionally-fitted versus over the counter hearing aids

In the past, private health insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare did not cover the cost of hearing aids, keeping them — because of their steep price — out of the hands of an estimated 48 million Americans who could benefit from them. Over time, some direct-to-consumer options have made them more affordable and accessible, and now the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act is expected to completely change hearing aid accessibility for those who need them by encouraging over-the-counter purchase options for these complex technological instruments.

The average cost of hearing aids is approximately $4,700 for a pair, with a price that can range depending on the brand, model, and type of hearing aid technology. New online options, however, have reduced costs for high-quality devices significantly, with prices beginning around $1,195 per pair. Eventually, over-the-counter options will remove even more cost barriers — but there are some challenges that consumers will need to navigate as they take advantage in this price reduction.

Today, before a person can purchase hearing aids, they typically visit a licensed professional in person, which can entail multiple appointments, tests, and fittings. In some instances — as with Lively — the testing and audiologist consultation can be completed from the comfort of your home.

With the move to over-the-counter hearing devices, the time commitment once required to purchase hearing aids will be decreased. But, unfortunately, these devices will not be a good fit for everyone. Over the counter hearing aids are designed for those with mild to moderate hearing loss, as treating more severe hearing loss requires careful adjustments and monitoring over time. No matter the type of hearing aid you choose, seeing an audiologist first, whether in-person or from the comfort of your home, may be useful when discussing strategies for improving hearing.

Are over the counter hearing aids a good fit for you?

Hearing aids are sophisticated devices and do much more than amplify sounds — they support the person wearing them by processing the sounds that they pick up and selectively amplifying those sounds in the way that is best suited to improve their ability to be heard. Compared to getting a new pair of glasses, getting a new pair of hearing aids requires adjustment and tuning — something that is difficult to do without the help of a professional. That's why it is key to know if you are a good fit for over-the-counter devices before making a purchase.

When considering an over-the-counter hearing aid, it's important to contemplate the following factors:

Access to an audiologist

Those who purchase over the counter hearing aids do not have access to an audiologist — a medical professional that can perform assessments, fine-tune hearing aid settings, and troubleshoot issues. This lack of support can be discouraging for many who experience hearing loss.

Hearing loss patterns

A new set of hearing aids starts off with a preliminary setting, which is then adjusted based on the wearer's hearing loss pattern, their experience with the hearing aid, and the technological capabilities of their device. Without an audiologist's help, this will need to be done by the wearer.

Adjustments needed over time

Hearing loss is a gradual process and may continue to get worse even after a person is fitted for a hearing aid. Unlike putting on a pair of new glasses, adjusting to a new hearing aid takes time as the brain adapts to the newly amplified sounds that the ear receives from the hearing aid. Knowing whether this adjustment process is going smoothly or needs further attention can be difficult to understand without the guidance of a professional.

Problems with self-tuning

Those who make their own hearing aid adjustments run the risk of believing hearing aids are not helpful due to incorrect self-tuning. This may lead them to stop seeking additional medical care for hearing loss and feel dissatisfied with the hearing aid experience altogether.

Choosing the right type of hearing aids for your needs

If you have mild-to-moderate hearing loss, over the counter hearing aids may be a useful place to start. If you have more severe hearing loss, however, this type of hearing device is not the best solution, as your hearing needs will require more customization specific to your lifestyle, something over the counter hearing aids will not be able to provide.

And while over the counter hearing aids are a recent development for the field of audiology, online hearing aid clinics, like Lively, are more similar to the well-established practice of a brick and mortar hearing aid clinic because they connect hearing aid wearers with an audiologist.

This means that purchasing hearing aids through Lively gets you much more than just a device. Lively's hearing aids are programmed for your specific hearing loss, and can adjust on the fly to different environments and situations. Wearers can also customize Lively hearing aids further, beyond the out-of-the-box settings, by downloading an easy-to-use app to control their hearing aids' settings to fit their environment. And should you run into any trouble, you can schedule a video call with your audiologist — something no OTC hearing aid offers.

So, to determine if over the counter hearing aids are right for you, it is important to consider factors outside of cost alone. Consider as well the severity of your hearing loss, your experience level using hearing aids, your motor dexterity, and the need for support by a trained professional over time.

If these generic options aren't the right choice, consider an option like Lively that can provide opportunities for customization and continued professional support. You're likely to find that the support of a professional leads you on a path to better hearing, and a stronger connection to the world around you.