OTCs - Who are they for?

September 20, 2022

OTCs - Who are they for?

If you’ve been watching the news recently, you may have heard about this new classification of hearing devices called Over-the-Counter or OTC hearing aids. This new classification has been approved and will be regulated by the FDA, in the hopes of improving affordability and access to hearing treatment. 

There is a very large population of people who are currently struggling with hearing loss that either don’t know they have a hearing loss, don’t think their hearing loss is bad enough to treat with hearing aids, or who cannot afford or do not have easy access to an audiologist. There are a multitude of reasons why individuals are not currently treating their hearing loss, but the FDA aims to bridge these gaps. 

Before diving deeper into OTC hearing aids, let’s first look at a few statistics. 

  • Roughly 15% of the global population has a hearing loss, and most are NOT treating it in any way. 
  • 70% of individuals with a profound loss currently utilize hearing treatment
  • 50% of individuals with a moderate loss currently use hearing treatment
  • Only 10% of those with a mild loss utilize hearing treatment

These statistics illuminate the vast number of individuals who are currently suffering with a hearing loss, whether due to depression, isolation, struggles at work, and more. This does not have to be the reality. In addition, untreated hearing loss dramatically increases your risk of developing dementia, with a doubling of risk with an untreated mild loss and a tripling of your risk with an untreated moderate loss. This is where OTC hearing aids can do the most work. 

OTC hearing aids have been approved for adults (18+) who perceive a mild to moderate degree of hearing loss without the requirement of a hearing evaluation by an audiologist or other hearing care professional. So, if you’re one of those individuals I mentioned previously, who may not think their hearing loss is bad enough, if you have limited access to hearing care, or if your family is nagging you to get your hearing checked, OTC hearing aids may be a great option to try out hearing treatment on your own. 

Affordability and Accessibility

These devices will likely be available online, in pharmacies, consumer electronics stores, or even your local audiology clinic. Since you are not required to have a professional evaluate your hearing or program these devices for you, the costs are expected to be lower than traditional hearing aids. This could provide a more economic option to those who have previously been unable to afford hearing aids. In addition, these devices are likely going to be more easily accessible since you may even be able to have them delivered right to your doorstep. Though these devices will likely not be set to your exact prescription for your hearing loss, these devices will allow you to modify amplification levels on your own, based on your perception of benefit. Advanced features like background noise reduction or directionality of microphones may not be adjustable, but that will vary based on the manufacturer. It is also thought that some of these manufacturers may offer remote support to help you to customize these devices as well, but again, that remains to be seen as these devices come to market. 

A Few Reminders

Programming your own hearing aids is not an easy task, but many clinics may be willing to assist you in programming your OTC hearing aids in an attempt to enhance your performance. Research shows that 79% of hearing aid users prefer hearing aids that are programmed to their exact prescription, which has been verified with real-ear measurement, rather than hearing aids that have been programmed based on patients’ comfort levels. Additionally, there won’t be as many digital features, such as background noise suppression, so if you continue to struggle in noisy places even with your OTC devices, please contact your hearing care provider. 

There are also types of hearing loss that REQUIRE medical intervention. Some of these include sudden hearing losses, hearing loss that is worse in one ear, dizziness, pain, or even drainage from your ears. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it could indicate a serious medical condition. It is also worth noting that if you have a moderately severe to profound hearing loss, over the count hearing aids will not provide you benefit.  If you have any of the above symptoms, or you do not feel like your over-the-counter hearing aids are working “enough,” please seek out a hearing care professional for guidance.

The Bottom Line

Over the counter hearing aids may be a good option for individuals who perceive a mild to moderate hearing loss. 

These devices will increase affordability and accessibility without the requirement for professional care. 

And always remember, if you do not have success with OTC devices, seek out the help of a hearing care professional, because your OTCs may need to be programmed differently, or you may not actually be a good candidate for their use.

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