Recently, the FDA released its final regulations on over-the-counter hearing aids. This regulation introduced an entirely new category of hearing aids called “over the counter” or “OTC.” OTC hearing aids officially became available Monday, October 17th, and will be an additional option to the existing category of hearing aids that the FDA now refers to as “prescription.”

As the name suggests, OTC hearing aids will be available over the counter at pharmacies, various retail stores and even certain hearing care clinics. Prescription hearing aids will continue to be obtained through licensed hearing care professionals.

If you’ve heard anything about over-the-counter hearing aids, it’s most likely that they will be less expensive than prescription hearing aids.

But where you get them and what you pay for them are only two of the many differences between prescription and OTC hearing aids. Here are some other things you’ll want to know about the two hearing aid categories.

Who are they for?

OTC hearing aids — For people ages 18+ and with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

Prescription hearing aids — For people of all ages and any degree of hearing loss.

Is a hearing evaluation required?

OTC hearing aids — No hearing evaluation is required.

Prescription hearing aids — A hearing evaluation is required.

Are there style and size options to choose from?

OTC hearing aids — There are behind-the-ear and in-ear options, but no custom-fit styles.

Prescription hearing aids — There are assorted styles, sizes and options to fit the wearer’s lifestyle, including custom-fit.

Will they be calibrated to the wearer’s hearing loss?

OTC hearing aids – Some models are “self-fit”, which means a companion app will measure responses based on the wearer’s hearing levels, then program them into the hearing aid at set up. Most will come with a volume control and/or pre-programmed settings that the wearer can switch between.

Prescription hearing aids – A hearing care professional will program them based on the wearer’s exact hearing loss. Everyone has different perceptions of sound and sound quality (two people with the exact same hearing loss will want their hearing aids programmed differently) — so the hearing professional will work with the wearer to make personalized adjustments until they are set to the wearer’s needs and preferences.

Do they come with service and support?

OTC hearing aids — No professional fitting or support is required to be provided. Most come with self-guided instructions.

Prescription hearing aids — They are fit, programmed and supported by a licensed hearing care professional for the lifetime of the device. Follow-up care and instructions come standard.

Is there a return policy?

OTC hearing aids — As of now, there are no state requirements for return policies.

Prescription hearing aids — Return policies are mandated by the state. No return policy can be less than 30 days.

Which one is right for you?

We’re firm believers in the life-changing power of better hearing, so we have been anticipating the introduction of OTC hearing aids since they were first announced. Anything that broadens accessibility to hearing loss treatment is a good thing!

But we also know that hearing aids are not like glasses. They’re sophisticated devices that require fine-tuning up front and service and support post-purchase. We’ve seen from experience that the best outcome is when an experienced hearing professional is involved — from testing and consultation, all the way to selection, fitting and after care.

Will you spend less on OTC hearing aids than prescription? In the short term, probably. But you’ll also spend less doing most things yourself (fixing your car, building a new garage, cutting your hair, managing your money, etc.). The difference is, when you work with a professional, you can be confident things will be done right and you’ll be satisfied with the outcome.

Same with a hearing care professional. You can be confident you’ll get a hearing aid that sounds great and fits your needs precisely. And you can relax, knowing you won’t have to spend frustrating hours on something that could easily be remedied or explained by a professional.

DIY? Or bring in an expert?

We’re excited that hearing aids will now be more accessible and hope this new category of hearing aids helps more people with hearing loss discover the joy of better hearing.

But with something as significant as our hearing, and an investment as important as hearing aids, we encourage everyone to seek the guidance and expertise of a licensed hearing care professional and not go through this life-changing journey on their own.

Find out what noises you may be missing! Schedule an appointment today for a hearing consultation.