The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently established a new category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, leading many to questioning whether an OTC hearing aid might work for them. We are excited that the new category of devices will help more patients get the help they need for their hearing loss, but picking out a hearing device is much more complicated than picking a pair of reading glasses off the shelf. It is important to remember a hearing device is only a part of the process to better hearing. To assist others in understanding the goal and limits of OTC devices, we put together answers to some frequently asked questions.
- How do I know if an OTC hearing aid will work for my hearing loss?
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) OTC hearing aids are “intended to help adults with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss.” The best way to determine if your hearing loss fits into the recommended range for OTC devices is to schedule a visit with an audiologist for a comprehensive hearing exam. The audiologist will educate you on the type and degree of your hearing loss and determine if further intervention is needed prior to the use of a hearing device. There are many hearing screening tools available online that can help you estimate the degree of your hearing loss. The a hearing screening is unable to determine the type of hearing loss or if other conditions (obstruction in the ear canal, improper function of the eardrum, issues affecting the bones in the middle ear, infection, or growths impacting the hearing nerve) may be contributing to the loss. If testing through an audiologist determines your loss falls into the mild to moderate range and is not impacted by an underlying medical condition an OTC device may work for you.
- Are OTC hearing aids cheaper?
Currently, OTC devices range from $500 per pair up to $3000 per pair. The quality varies widely and manufacturers who are new to the hearing healthcare market have quickly learned that reducing background noise while simultaneously amplifying speech is quite difficult. In many cases, the entry-level devices available through audiology practices contain technology that far exceeds what is offered in OTC devices AND are available at a comparable cost.
- Can children use OTC devices?
No, at this time OTC options are only approved for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. Comprehensive testing and routine monitoring of children with hearing loss is crucial to ensure the best outcomes for speech understanding and speech and language development.
- Can OTC devices be adjusted?
OTC devices are designed to be self- fitted and adjusted through a smartphone App. If you are having difficulty hearing, it is unlikely that an audiologist will be able to make adjustments beyond those you can make yourself on the App. Since the size and shape of the ear canal can have a significant impact on the delivery of sound, it may be helpful for an audiologist to perform speechmapping. The speechmapping measurements allow the audiologist to determine if the device is correctly amplifying for your loss and may assist you with self-adjustments. OTC devices typically work through a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone so if managing the devices through your phone sounds cumbersome, an OTC option may not be right for you.
- What happens if I have a problem with my OTC device or it stops functioning?
Since the current OTC options are not made by the same manufacturers who supply devices to audiology clinics it is unlikely that a local clinic will be able to perform a repair on a OTC device. You will likely need to work directly with the manufacturer of the device through an online visit or by shipping the device back to the manufacturer for service. If you experience feedback (squealing or whistling) from the device you may need to visit an audiologist to determine if the physical fit of the device needs to be adjusted or if debris in the ear canal is contributing to the issue.
In most cases, patients will achieve the greatest benefit when properly tested and fitted by an audiologist. It is important to partner with professionals who can guide you through the process to better hearing. At The Dallas Ear Institute, our hearing experts constantly evaluate device options to ensure we are offering our patients the best possible solutions from trusted manufacturers. We also offer multiple service plan options to meet individual care and financial needs. Our team is committed to working with you to ensure that your hearing loss does not prevent you from fully experiencing life.