A Guide for before you buy OTC Hearing Aids

With the recent FDA guidelines released concerning Over-The-Counter (OTC) hearing devices, we anticipate that some people with early-stage hearing loss may choose this option as a first step.  Untreated hearing loss results in depression, dementia, isolation, balance issues and falls.

With hearing aids now available over-the-counter from Walmart to Walgreens and even online, these devices are meant to be used on older adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. These are sold ranging from very low entry pricing as rechargeable hearing amplifiers to more expensive, rechargeable hearing amplifiers in a casing that resembles medical-grade hearing aids. Self-service hearing aid selection can help someone find a quick solution to a mild hearing problem.

Data provided by a leading hearing aid manufacturer shows that only 20% of people who purchase OTC hearing aids ever purchase a second OTC hearing aid.


A hearing aid is only the FIRST step in the process to restore your hearing. Audiologists at MacDonald Audiology provide hearing counseling for you and your family. We take the time to fully understand ALL your health concerns, diet and medications that impact hearing loss. Getting family and friends to understand the techniques to help compensate for your hearing is an additional, important part of an overall, successful result.

OTC hearing aids are not suitable for use on children or for adults with significant hearing loss or medical hearing loss from illness or injury.

The FDA classifies these as PSAPs – personal sound amplification products, and are not medical devices or operate at the same level as a professionally fit hearing instrument.

This would be like me buying myself glasses by just trying on different prescriptions and guessing.

– S.F.

In order to protect yourself, we highly suggest the following:

  • See your PCP or an Audiologist if the findings suggest a difference between ears of 15 dB or greater. This is an indicator of a possible medical issue that requires assistance.
  • See an Audiologist if you have had a history of medical problems with your ears or hearing. There are additional factors that may make you a better candidate for a custom-fit solution.
  • Understand that there is a world of difference between a “hearing screening” and a “hearing test”.

Once you have your hearing screening test results, you will be shopping for devices.  While we cannot recommend any particular devices or stores, here are a few things to keep in mind.

You will be seen and serviced by a “hearing instrument specialist” salesperson. The training for this position is a work requirement under supervision or in NYS, 3 months of coursework to obtain a certification. Companies that typically employ hearing instrument specialists are Miracle-Ear, Starkey and Beltone.

  • If you are concerned about a child with potential hearing loss, they should see their pediatrician for a recommendation to a pediatric Audiologist or ENT.
  • If improperly fitted, a PSAP has the ability to actually harm your hearing.
  • These devices will not last as long as a well-engineered hearing instrument, so expect to replace them every 2-3 years, even with a warranty.
  • If you do not hear well with an OTC hearing aid, it does not mean you won’t hear well with a professionally fitted hearing instrument.  The testing, wide selection and custom fitting available through an Audiologist’s office look at multiple facets of your personal hearing range and lifestyle requirements to address each concern fully.

When in doubt, seek out professional help.  There is much more to a hearing-instrument fitting than just making things louder.  Professionally fitted, high-quality hearing instruments and assistive devices have the ability to help you hear better in all listening situations and often for less money than you might expect. 

If your career or general life satisfaction is critical to you, seeing a licensed hearing professional is the first step to hearing at your best.

Hearing aid brands we recommend and fit regularly.

Phonak logo
Oticon Logo

Links for more information:

NIH – National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders – Over the Counter Hearing Aids

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