Since I’ve worked in the hearing healthcare industry, we’ve only had one term for hearing aids that are worn to treat a hearing loss and provided by an audiologist. Now, we have two devices classed as hearing aids – prescription hearing aids and over-the-counter hearing aids.

Last October 2021, the proposed regulations for over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids were released, and we expect these regulations to come into effect this summer.

In this article, we go through the differences between the two devices categorized as hearing aids so that you and your loved ones can make the right choice for your hearing healthcare.

Key Differences Between Prescription And OTC Hearing Aids

The key difference is in the term used.

  • Prescription hearing aids are hearing devices prescribed and programed by a hearing specialist for your hearing loss based on a hearing evaluation. Buying these is similar to buying prescription eyeglasses.
  • Hearing aids can be bought in any store, and they have generic programming. Buying these is similar to buying generic eyeglasses.

The second key difference is in how long each day you want to wear them for.

  • Prescription hearing aids can be worn all day long and are comfortable. They are an excellent long-term solution for your hearing needs.
  • Hearing aids can be worn as needed and are not comfortable for all-day wear. They are not designed to be a long-term medical solution.

Prescription Hearing Aids

The process involved in receiving prescription hearing aids is:

  1. Get a hearing evaluation and physical exam of the ear by an audiologist.
  2. Rule out any medical concerns that might be causing the hearing loss during the assessment. Get a medical referral if there are signs of that being possible.
  3. Rule out the hearing loss being from a buildup of earwax. Have your ears cleaned out professionally if that’s the cause.
  4. Review the results of the test with your audiologist. Find out your level of hearing loss, if any, and discuss hearing treatment solutions.
  5. Choose your hearing treatment from a wide selection of manufacturers and models to fit your lifestyle and budget.
  6. Have your hearing aid(s) fitted and programed properly by your audiologist to match every aspect of your hearing that needs assistance – pitch, tone, background noise suppression, word clarity, and more.
  7. Get ongoing guidance and support from your audiologist for the next one to four years, depending on the hearing package you choose. This includes cleaning and maintenance, yearly hearing checks, repairs, and advice anytime you need it.
  8. Get a 1- to 4-year loss and damage warranty on your prescription hearing aids. And we give you a loaner pair if you have to wait on repairs.

Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids

To buy hearing aids from a store:

  1. Take an online hearing test that is inadequate.
  2. Possibly miss a medical concern.
  3. Possibly waste hundreds of dollars on hearing aids when all you need is your ears cleaned out.
  4. Have no guidance or support from the store you buy them from.
  5. Be limited to only choose from one or two styles with limited features.
  6. Have no fitting help or adequate programming. The hearing aids might fall out easily, and many store-bought hearing aids only bump up the volume.
  7. Have no ongoing help or guidance and pay for everything – hearing tests, hearing aid cleanings and checks, and repairs.
  8. Limited returns policy, and a warranty is unlikely.

Which Type Of Hearing Aid Is The Best Choice For You?

The biggest fact you need to know before you do any more research is the degree of hearing loss you have, and there’s no way to know that without doing a full hearing assessment with an audiologist.

Some would say that an online test is good enough, but after comparing results between online tests and professional ones, there’s just no way we can recommend doing that. So, no matter which hearing aid you choose, please get the best hearing test possible first!

Some people think they don’t need any test at all, that they are fully aware of how much hearing loss they have, but this is simply not true.

Hearing loss is very gradual, and we have witnessed many men and women cry when they try on hearing aids for the first time in our office and realize what they were missing.

Again, only an audiologist can tell you exactly what you need based on a thorough evaluation.

At Gold Country Hearing & Balance, we might suggest hearing aids or prescription hearing aids to our patients because we find that sometimes the OTC hearing aids do a good job helping people whose hearing loss just needs the occasional boost in noisy environments.

What Are Your Next Steps?

If you think it’s time to treat your own hearing loss or that of a loved one, book a hearing test to find out what you need. We’ll be able to review the results immediately with you, give you some recommendations, and then leave the final decision to you.

The only way to treat your hearing loss properly is with all the information at hand, and that’s what we are here for – to guide and support you with our years of study and expertise.

We look forward to helping you make this big decision on your hearing journey.

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Charles Sanders, Au.D.

Dr. Charley Sanders, AuD, and the team at Gold Country Hearing are excited to show what sets them apart as leaders in the industry. As a hearing aid user himself, Dr. Sanders understands that hearing loss can be isolating, so he is dedicated to helping his patients hear their best and stay connected with their loved ones. A native of the area, Dr. Sanders received his Master’s degree from CSUS and his Doctorate at Salus University. A witness to how treating hearing loss enriches lives, he returned to his alma mater, CSUS, to teach the next generation of audiologists. Patients return, again and again, often referring their friends and family, and to Dr. Sanders, that trust is the ultimate compliment.