Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are available to purchase in stores and online for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. People do not require a prescription or medical exam for OTC hearing aids.

OTC hearing aids work in a similar way to prescription hearing aids, but are devices people fit themselves. People do not need to visit a hearing healthcare professional before getting OTC hearing aids.

They are not suitable for children or adults with severe hearing loss.

This article looks at what OTC hearing aids are, who they may benefit, costs, and where to buy them.

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OTC hearing aids are hearing aids that people can buy without needing a prescription or a visit to a hearing health professional.

They work in the same way as prescription hearing aids, and help to make sounds louder. People may also be able to control and adjust OTC hearing aids in different ways than prescription hearing aids.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved OTC hearing aids as medical devices that people can buy without needing a medical exam or a fitting with an audiologist.

OTC hearing aids are only suitable for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), people may have mild hearing loss if they can only hear sounds once they reach 30 decibels (dB). People may have moderate hearing loss if they can only hear sounds close to 50 dB.

OTC hearing aids are only suitable for people over the age of 18. Children with hearing loss require prescription hearing aids to suit their growth and development, as well as monitoring by an audiologist.

OTC hearing aids may help people to seek help earlier for hearing loss, which can help to prevent other health conditions and improve quality of life.

According to a 2020 study, hearing loss may contribute to depression, possibly due to an increase in social isolation and changes to brain structure.

There may also be a possible link with hearing loss and cognitive decline or dementia. According to a 2019 study, hearing aids may help to improve cognitive function.

Only one in four adults who may benefit from using a hearing aid have used them. Increasing the accessibility of hearing aids may help to improve health outcomes and quality of life, particularly in older adults.

OTC hearing aids may be considerably less expensive than prescription hearing aids. According to the FDA, the aim of OTC hearing aids is to help lower healthcare costs for people whilst still providing safe and effective hearing aids.

OTC hearing aids do not require people to undergo a medical exam, get a prescription, or have a fitting with an audiologist. This may help to make hearing aids more accessible to those with mild or moderate hearing loss.

People with severe hearing loss, or those under the age of 18, will still need prescription hearing aids.

Costs may vary depending on the manufacturer and distributor.

According to the American Academy of Audiology, an OTC hearing aid may cost between $300—$600.

The OTC hearing aid market is still very new, so it is unclear as to whether health insurance will cover costs. Hearing aid coverage may vary between different insurance providers and individual plans.

Personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are devices for people with normal hearing levels who want to amplify certain sounds. For example, if a person is bird watching, they may want to amplify sounds that are more difficult to hear even with normal hearing.

PSAPs fall under consumer electronics. It is important to ensure the sound of PSAPs does not become too loud, as this may damage hearing.

The FDA define OTC hearing aids as medical devices, and PSAPs as consumer products that help amplify sounds for people with normal hearing.

This means the FDA regulates OTC hearing aids, but not PSAPs, so quality, safety, and effectiveness may vary.

OTC hearing aids became available from October 2022. People can buy OTC hearing aids from a range of stores or online, including:

  • audiology offices
  • drug stores
  • big-box stores
  • mail order

Any stores that stock health care devices or have a pharmacy section may stock OTC hearing aids.

If people want to find out their hearing level, or have any concerns about hearing loss, they can see an audiologist.

An audiologist will be able to find out the type and severity of hearing loss that people may have, and can let people know whether they require OTC or prescription hearing aids.

People can use this search tool to find a local audiologist.

The FDA now regulates OTC hearing aids as a medical device that people can buy online or in stores without requiring a prescription, medical exam, or fitting with an audiologist.

OTC hearing aids may be a more accessible and lower cost option for people who require help with their hearing.

OTC hearing aids are suitable for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. Children and people with severe hearing loss will require tests and prescription hearing aids from a healthcare professional.

If people want to undergo a hearing test or want advice on OTC hearing aids, they can consult an audiologist.