Thursday February 22, 2024
Tips for Finding Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids
The new FDA approved over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids have become a very attractive alternative to millions of older Americans with hearing impairments. This new category of hearing aids went into effect in October of 2022.
These new hearing aids can be purchased at pharmacies, consumer electronics stores or online without requiring a hearing exam, prescription or appointment with an audiologist. The savings are significant, with the average cost of an OTC hearing aid at around $1,600 per pair, which is approximately $3,000 less than the average price of a prescription hearing aid.
Sorting through all the different options and styles of hearing aids can be time consuming and confusing. Here are some tips that can help you choose the right aid for you.
Check Your Hearing
Your first step to getting a hearing aid is to have your hearing tested. Be aware that OTC hearing aids are designed only for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Common signs include trouble hearing speech in noisy places, in group settings and during phone calls.
The best place to get your hearing tested is through a hearing care provider such as an audiologist. These in-person tests are usually covered by private medical insurance. Medicare will cover general hearing evaluations every 12 months without a doctor's referral. You can also assess your hearing at home with a free app-based hearing test.
If your test results indicate that you have severe hearing loss (signs include being unable to hear spoken words even in a quiet room or trouble hearing loud music or power tools), then OTC aids are not the right solution for you. You will likely need a prescription hearing aid obtained through an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.
Choosing an OTC Aid
If you decide that an OTC hearing aid may work for you, here are some suggestions to help you choose the best one for you.
OTC hearing aids come in two types: self-fitting and preset. Self-fitting aids typically use a smartphone app to set up and adjust the device to suit your specific hearing needs, which makes them better suited for individuals who are technologically inclined. Preset hearing aids are much simpler devices that come with a number of set programs for different levels of hearing loss and controls that are set directly on the hearing aid.
Additionally, because OTC hearing aids have a learning curve, it is very important to know the level of customer support you will have access to. Before you buy an OTC hearing aid, find out how long the company provides support after your purchase and the credentials or expertise held by customer service individuals.
You should also inquire about the company's return policy. It can take weeks to get accustomed to wearing hearing aids and figure out whether they are really working for you. Make sure to choose a brand that offers a minimum 30-day free trial period or money back return policy.
Best OTC Hearing Aids
To help you navigate through all the different options, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), which is a national nonprofit organization that advocates for older Americans, recently assembled a review team who collectively spent more than 5,000 hours researching, testing and interviewing customers about OTC hearing aids. To learn more, see NCOA.org/adviser/hearing-aids/best-otc-hearing-aids. If you want to see all the options available on the market, check out online options to help you compare features.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.