Prescription vs. OTC Hearing Aids: What You Should Choose?

In order to meet the needs of a diverse population, hearing aids come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. For the consumer, selecting the best option can be a difficult and confusing task, making the guidance of an experienced audiologist invaluable. With new regulations issued by the FDA for over-the-counter hearing aids, affordability and accessibility are increasing – but with it comes increasing responsibility for the consumer to become his or her “own expert”.

Read more to learn about prescription and OTC hearing aids, their differences, and which one you should choose.

What Are Prescription Hearing Aids?

These hearing aids are prescribed, programmed, and fitted by a hearing aid specialist or audiologist. Because they are fitted to a unique prescription generated by a hearing test, this kind of hearing aid can be expected to offer the best outcome possible for each case of hearing loss. Additionally, modern prescription hearing aids are usually compatible with smartphones and other devices to optimize your listening experience and can also be customized according to your needs and lifestyle.

What Are Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids?

These are hearing aids that can be purchased from an online or brick-and-mortar store without any diagnostic hearing evaluation or doctor’s prescription. OTC hearing aids may be “one-size-fits-all” devices coming with a standard sound program (not programmed to a particular prescription) or may be adjusted by the wearer to a “seat-of-the-pants” program based entirely upon the wearer’s perceptions. This certainly is a better approach than avoiding hearing aids entirely and in some situations, is likely to be of significant benefit. It is very common, though, for those with hearing loss to badly underestimate how much volume they need, which in turn can result in inadequate amplification and much less benefit than might otherwise be seen.

What Are the Differences Between Prescription and OTC Hearing Aids?

The primary difference is that a prescription hearing aid is fit to an individual prescription generated by a thorough hearing exam and then fine-tuned using actual in-ear measurements. This guarantees that the devices will closely meet the wearer’s needs and give the best possible hearing.

Another difference is that, with the assistance of your audiologist, you can select an ideal model not only for your type and degree of hearing loss but also for your habits and lifestyle, such as a need to hear business calls, or listen to music wirelessly, etc.

And – most importantly, in some cases – OTC hearing aids are approved only for mild to moderate hearing loss. Those who fall outside of that category will not achieve adequate results with OTC devices.

Finally, prescription hearing aids can only be purchased from a licensed audiologist or dispenser, who will then work closely with you to make adjustments, clean and check the devices, and ensure that you are receiving the full benefit of your hearing aids. OTC hearing aids, on the other hand, can be purchased from a retail store or online without a prescription. They demand self-fitting or programming and do not generally include other services or personalized follow-ups.

Which One Is Better for You?

It depends. Certainly, an OTC hearing aid is better than no hearing aid, so if the cost or availability of a prescription hearing aid is an insurmountable issue, then an OTC hearing aid may well be the best option. Additionally, OTC devices might fill a role as a relatively inexpensive “test” to see whether an individual with hearing loss can integrate amplification into his or her lifestyle. As an example, a person with hearing loss may “dip her toe into the water”, using OTC devices for a year or two, and then decide to explore the possibilities of prescription devices to give her the very best hearing possible.

Others, though, may want maximum benefit right from the start. For those people, making an appointment with an audiologist is the right approach. And even for those who are undecided, a professional hearing evaluation will help determine your type and degree of hearing loss, which can also help you decide whether you need a prescription or OTC hearing aid. Online hearing tests do not provide an accurate diagnosis, so having a test done by a professional audiologist will likely result in better outcomes, even for those who decide to go with OTC hearing aids.

Still Not Sure of What Type of Hearing Aid You Need?

Schedule an appointment for a diagnostic hearing evaluation with our audiologist, Dr. Chris Hoffmann, today at Hoffmann Audiology. With over 14 years of clinical expertise in hearing testing, she will accurately diagnose your hearing loss and recommend the best hearing aids for you.




Chris Lin Hoffmann

Dr. Chris Hoffmann is an audiologist who has been involved in hearing sciences for over 20 years. Her passion for helping people with their hearing led her to establish Hoffmann Audiology hearing clinic. Dr. Hoffmann has more than 14 years of clinical knowledge in hearing testing, hearing aid fittings, and aural rehabilitation.

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