March 20, 2023

Considering over-the-counter hearing aids?

audiologist doing hearing exam to a mature patient using audiometer in special audio room.

If so, UW Health recommends a hearing test

One in three adults over 65 has hearing loss, although it can start at younger ages. Hearing loss typically begins gradually, so it can take time for people to notice.

When your hearing gets worse, higher-pitch sounds, which are important for understanding other speakers, usually become more difficult to hear than lower-pitch sounds.

Hearing what another person says can also become more challenging with background noise present, such as in a busy restaurant. If you find yourself turning the TV up louder than others prefer or frequently ask people to repeat themselves, you might want to have your hearing checked.

Hearing aids, which have been around for more than a century, cannot completely fix your hearing, but they certainly can help.

In late 2022, new federal regulations took effect allowing for over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. OTC devices do not require an in-house hearing test, fitting appointment or prescription.

UW Health audiologists advise people to get a hearing test before buying OTC hearing aids. Hearing tests are usually covered by insurance and if you need a referral for a test, a quick request to your primary care doctor is typically sufficient.

A hearing test conducted by an audiologist is the best way to know if OTC hearing aids will work for you,said Sara Misurelli, AuD, PhD, an assistant professor of otolaryngology who supervises the UW Health audiology team. The test also provides solid data to help determine the best hearing device for you.

Misurelli also noted that people can easily underestimate or overestimate their own hearing difficulty, which makes getting a hearing test all the more beneficial.

Tips to consider before buying OTC hearing aids

If you are considering OTC hearing aids, Misurelli has a few other tips to keep in mind:

  • OTC hearing aids are only for adults (18 and older) with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. People with severe hearing impairment require prescription devices.

  • OTC devices are not the same as prescription hearing aids, which can be more finely tuned by an audiologist.

  • You might need a computer or smartphone app to operate or customize OTC devices

  • Check the warranty and return policy of an OTC product before you buy

Misurelli said people should absolutely see a medical provider if they have more severe symptoms such as ear fluid drainage, ear pain, a sudden change in hearing or sudden dizziness.

“We know that OTC hearings aids may be a good option for some and not for others,” she said. “We want people to have the information they need to make the most informed choice for their situation.”