What Is an Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aid?

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As a trusted team of hearing doctors and medical experts, we naturally have some concerns with over-the-counter hearing aids.

With Best Buy and many pharmacy stores now stocking over-the-counter hearing aids following President Biden’s executive order, there has been a lot of confusion about what these devices are and how they differ from traditional prescription hearing aids.

In this article, you’ll learn the key differences between over-the-counter and prescription devices, the impact that this new category of devices will have on hearing loss treatment, and understand which options are right for you.

What Are Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids?

OTC, or Over The Counter, is the term given to a product that can be purchased without a prescription. It is a product that is purchased directly by the consumer, set up, and used by the consumer with no professional assistance required.

Although the term “over the counter” is a new concept, in reality this type of self-fitting hearing devices has been around for a long time under the name PSAP (Personal Sound Amplifiers), as the term “hearing aid” was protected by the FDA.

Priced at around $999 at CVS, they are self-fitting, require you to set them up via a cell phone app, and allow you to select a setting to offer overall amplification.

Only today, brands such as Sony, Bose, and Jabra are entering the market utilizing the new FDA guidelines to launch consumer-focused amplification devices under this new category.

Want To Find Out Which Hearing Aids Are Best For You?

What Are the Differences Between Prescription and Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids?

A great comparison is prescription eyeglasses and over-the-counter “readers.”

“Readers” are a solution that help people that require a helping hand in certain situations but are not a full-time or long-term solution. Over-the-counter hearing aids will share a lot of similarities.

To help understand the differences, here is a comparison chart:


The Biggest Risks of OTC

As a trusted team of hearing doctors and medical experts, we naturally have some concerns with over-the-counter hearing aids. Our biggest concern is that the guidelines do not require an adult to have a hearing test prior to purchasing these devices.

This results in two risks:

#1 – Firstly, a hearing loss is not the only reason you may be struggling to hear. When conducting a hearing evaluation, we analyze your overall hearing health and often discover alternative reasons why you may be struggling to hear.

These can be as simple as a buildup of earwax that can be easily addressed, to a serious medical condition that requires immediate attention. Without having a hearing evaluation, you could be addressing something that is quickly fixable or worsening a medical concern.

#2 – Secondly, we’re concerned about the recommendation that over-the-counter devices are for people with a perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss. As hearing loss often happens slowly and gradually, it’s almost impossible to know what level of hearing loss you have until you have a hearing evaluation.

We often see people that walk through our door that believe they have a mild hearing loss, only to discover that they have a severe hearing loss that requires immediate attention.

Over-the-counter hearing aids could be applying a band-aid to a more serious challenge by not requiring a hearing evaluation.

Our Advice to You

You wouldn’t prescribe yourself medication without first visiting a doctor, and the same is true when it comes to addressing a hearing loss. It’s why it’s critically important to first schedule a hearing evaluation.

Your hearing challenges could be due to something as simple as a buildup of earwax, or you may have a more complex medical concern that needs a referral – but adding a band-aid to a risky solution for something as sensitive as your hearing health.


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Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Dr. Jennifer G. Mayer purchased South Shore Hearing Center in January 2016. She was born and raised in Swampscott, MA. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing in 1996 from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and her Master’s degree in audiology from the Northeastern University in 1998. Dr. Mayer fulfilled her Clinical Fellowship Year (CFY) in 1999 at Hear USA and Cape Cod Ear, Nose and Throat. Following her CFY, Dr. Mayer was a staff audiologist in various clinical settings, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She joined the South Shore Hearing Center staff in 2006. Dr. Mayer obtained her Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) degree from the A.T. Still University, Arizona School of Health Sciences in 2008. Dr. Mayer’s specialties are diagnostic audiology, pediatric and adult amplification and educational audiology. Dr. Mayer is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology. She is licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Audiology and certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

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