What You Need to Know About Over-the-Counter Hearing (OTC) Devices


Senior woman wondering about OTC hearing aids.

There have been huge strides the last few years to making hearing devices such as hearing aids more affordable.

This is crucial because ignoring hearing loss will catch up with you. Studies have found that even people with mild hearing loss begin to experience cognitive decline and brain atrophy. People with untreated hearing loss are three times more likely to have cognitive impairment, which also increases their chances of developing dementia. Untreated hearing loss has also been linked to depression, anxiety, and an increased incidence of other health issues. 

In spite of the threat to their health, many people will wait up to 10 years to get hearing aids. Some are just in denial. Others delay getting help because of cost.  

At Audiology Associates of North Florida, we help you find affordable hearing aids to address your needs.

Thankfully, technology has become more affordable. Plus, as lawmakers become educated on the importance of hearing to your overall health, legislation and insurance coverage is also improving. 

Now, some hearing amplifiers are available online or off the shelf in pharmacies and other stores. But, buyer beware.

Make sure you do your research. Just because you can buy something over the counter, doesn’t mean this is a DIY project. Your ability to understand speech depends on your ability to hear small variations in frequencies. This is affected by how your device is programmed, how it fits, and whether it’s strong enough.

What’s the point of buying hearing aids, or any hearing device, if you can’t make out conversation?

Why a hearing test should be your first step

Depending on how bad your hearing is, over-the-counter devices may not be strong enough. In addition, hearing loss often happens to specific frequencies. For example, you may lose your ability to hear high frequencies but be fine in the lower ranges. This has important implications for choosing a hearing device, namely:

  • Universally increasing the volume of all frequencies can be painful and damage your hearing further. 
  • If they are painful or not working well, you’ll stop wearing them. That would be a waste of money, and you would be back to square one with your hearing loss.
  • Consonants and vowels are spoken at different frequencies. If you want to hear speech clearly, you need to hear all frequencies. This makes programming your hearing device crucial…a feature not available in all devices.

Starting with a hearing test will ensure the device you purchase adequately addresses your hearing loss without causing further damage. With a hearing test, you’ll be able to take advantage of programming functions on your device (assuming, of course, they have this capability). 

Over-the-counter hearing aids

Most modern hearing aids also offer features that just aren’t available in over-the-counter devices. Artificial intelligence helps to block out unwanted background noise, such as the wind. This allows you to focus on the conversation.

Unlike over-the-counter devices, hearing aids also offer features that help manage tinnitus symptoms, track your overall health, and sync to Bluetooth devices such as your smartphone or television.

Two people looking at different kinds of hearing aids

Don’t ignore your hearing loss

Hearing aids are an investment, but if you delay addressing your hearing loss, it is more expensive over time.

Untreated hearing loss has been shown to increase your healthcare bills by as much as 40 percent.

Whether you decide to go with traditional hearing aids or an over-the-counter device, you should start with a hearing test to ensure you’re adequately addressing your hearing loss.

Woman in hearing booth