Historically, the term “prescription hearing aids” has not been used to describe hearing aids because there have been no alternatives to this gold standard in clinical care. Things have changed.

For too long, many people have not had access to hearing healthcare due to financial constraints or geographical location. In particular, people living in many rural communities have had to travel great distances in order to see an audiologist. The FDA is planning to approve sales of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids by the end of 2022 as long as they follow proposed regulations released in October 2021. This is great news for people who, until now, have not been able to obtain hearing help. Thanks to online availability and lower price points, there are many different options for improving hearing. We expect this will make hearing care more accessible in general. That’s great news.

Because of this shift in hearing care options,  the term “prescription hearing aids” is now used to refer to to traditional hearing aids – hearing aids tailored just for you and fit by your audiologist.

The term “hearing aids” will now include online and over-the-counter hearing aids that can be purchased without the guidance and expertise of an audiologist.  

Below, I will help clarify some of the main differences between the two terms.

Which Hearing Aids Are Right For You?

Prescription Hearing Aids or Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids?

Prescription hearing aids are chosen and programmed in consultation with your audiologist, with consideration to your particular situation.

Prescription hearing aids are tailored just for you, with follow-up visits as needed to get them just right. Routine ongoing care appointments ensure they continue to work well for you over several years.

We take many factors into account when choosing hearing aids for you, including the results from our comprehensive diagnostic evaluation, your listening needs, and your preferences.

  • Our comprehensive assessment evaluates performance in real world environments – hearing with background noise, multiple people talking, loudness comfort levels, and more.
  • We recommend hearing aids for your unique preferences based on sound quality, noise management needs, cosmetics, dexterity, cost, Bluetooth connectivity and accessories.
  • We work with major hearing aid manufacturers we trust to have high-quality products with technology supported by research. We know we’ll be able to find something to suit your needs.

Over-the-counter hearing aids are new to the market and have a do-it-yourself approach. You can do a simple online hearing “test” and have them “programmed” without ever seeing a professional in person.

There are huge risks to this. Although you are likely to hear better with OTC devices than without them, you may still have inadequate hearing and your brain will have to work harder than it should to comprehend speech. Scientists believe this overuse of cognitive resources may explain the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. There is also a risk you will over-amplify the sounds around you resulting in long-term damage to your hearing.

Many of the companies offering OTC products are new to the market without proven track records of success. As a result, the quality is expected to be more variable across different companies.

Choosing Prescription or Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids

There are many factors that contribute to someone’s success with hearing aids. We’ve found that:

  • the hearing aids themselves,
  • the audiologist’s expertise, and
  • the follow-up care and support

Are all important for long-term success.

Your audiologist considers your listening needs, lifestyle, and preferences when recommending hearing aids. Just as important is the precise programming that follows which is based on results from your comprehensive diagnostic test results. Real ear measurements are used to ensure they are functioning optimally for you.

If you live in an area with access to audiological care, we strongly recommend starting with the gold standard care model by seeing an audiologist for a hearing assessment and to discuss your options. This will ultimately help you make an informed decision.

Visit an Audiologist Before Testing and Purchasing Online

To prepare for this appointment, you might ask yourself what seems appealing about prescription hearing aids vs. over-the-counter devices? This will help you come up with questions to ask your audiologist.

The best decisions are well-informed ones.

We’ve seen people in our clinic who have purchased hearing aids online and been dissatisfied for years. They did not realize better hearing healthcare existed until a friend or family member referred them to us.

We’ve been happy to help them, and many express that they wish they had found us sooner.

Are you looking for a long-term partner in your hearing healthcare, or are you looking to manage your hearing loss yourself with a quick purchase…bearing in mind that the complexities are typically greater than most people realize…?

Still Feeling Confused About Buying Hearing Aids Online?

It’s great that you are already thinking about your hearing loss needs – that is the first step. Come see us for a comprehensive hearing evaluation and consultation to discuss your options.

There is a lot of information out there, and our role is to help you sort through it so you make the best decision.

We never want price to be the reason someone doesn’t get hearing help. Our local nonprofit, Pacific Hearing Connection, provides services for those in need in our local community. Find out more information about qualifying for services here.

Book your hearing assessment today, and please call us at Menlo Park: (650) 854-1980 or Los Altos: (650) 941-0664 if you have any questions about hearing healthcare or hearing aids.

Pacific Hearing Service has cared for tens of thousands of patients since 1977, and we look forward to giving you the best proven hearing healthcare in Silicon Valley.

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Ariel Fruendt, Au.D.

I went to school at Northwestern University for my undergraduate degree and Au.D. I completed my clinical externship at UCSF Medical Center, then worked in private practice. We moved to Chicago for my husband’s job and I worked in private practice there before joining the clinical faculty at Northwestern University’s on-campus clinic. I served as a preceptor for Au.D. students, focusing on adult diagnostics and treatment, tinnitus management, and hearing conservation. I also taught ethics in audiology courses and oversaw an amplification lecture series. My favorite thing about Pacific Hearing Service is the dynamic and supportive team environment that always puts the patient first, with dedication to using evidence-based practice in our everyday protocols.