Hearing loss is common as people age, and many seniors experience mild to moderate hearing loss in one or both ears. However, due to the high cost of specialty hearing aids, many older Americans cannot purchase high-end models and look for a less expensive solution. Hearing aid technology has come a long way over the past two decades, including the emergence of over-the-counter (OTC) and direct-to-consumer (DTC) hearing devices, intended for users with mild to moderate hearing loss who are not able to visit a hearing specialist. 

A clear benefit of OTC hearing technology is that they’re easy to purchase and more affordable than traditional models. OTC devices amplify sounds, allowing users to participate more fully in daily activities and understand conversations more clearly. Beyond the advantage of convenience, OTC and DTC hearing aids are often less expensive than those regulated by the FDA and obtained through audiologists or otolaryngologists.

In this guide, we look at the benefits of DTC hearing aids and some drawbacks, as well as information about some of the best hearing aids.

What Are OTC Hearing Aids?

The FDA considers over-the-counter hearing devices to be personal sound amplifier products (PSAPs) rather than true hearing aids. They are meant for individuals who experience difficulty hearing in certain situations but are not meant to treat hearing loss. Unlike prescription hearing aids which are custom-made and fitted to the individual, including different strength levels for each ear and advanced features that address the needs of people with profound hearing loss, PSAPs are more of a one-size-fits-all model. 

These amplifiers aren’t designed for children or adults who have hearing loss. Seniors with severe difficulty hearing or discerning different sounds should seek a professional assessment from an audiologist to find a hearing solution better suited to treat their needs. Additionally, as per FDA regulations, hearing aids are a different designation of medical device than a sound amplifier and are subject to stricter regulations. 

Straddling the OTC amplifiers and FDA-approved hearing aids purchased from an audiologist are DTC hearing aids, which you can buy online. Unlike OTC PSAPs, DTC hearing aids can be used to treat hearing loss, are registered with the FDA, and offer remote care with an audiologist for professional assistance. 

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, then an OTC hearing aid may deliver the boost you need without the need for a trip to the audiologist’s office for a hearing exam. Mild to moderate hearing loss is typically characterized by:

  • You hear muffled or indistinguishable speech and sounds 
  • You have a hard time discerning different sounds when speaking in a group, in noisy situations or when you cannot see who is talking to you
  • You find yourself frequently having to ask people to repeat themselves or speak up or to speak slowly and enunciate more
  • You’re listening to the TV or radio at a louder volume or need to turn subtitles on

However, if you still have difficulty hearing conversations, even in a quiet one-on-one setting, or if you aren’t able to hear louder sounds, including traffic noise, emergency signals or media turned up at a loud volume, you likely need to see a hearing professional for a diagnosis and more targeted hearing aid solution. In these cases, OTC hearing aids won’t be sufficient for your needs.

What Are the Best DTC Hearing Aids?

While there are many brands of hearing aids available, not all offer the same features or are as comfortable as users prefer. Below, we’ve gathered information about the top three DTC hearing aids that you can buy online.

Eargo NeoHiFi

Eargo hearing devices are known for being some of the most comfortably-fitting devices, and the company offers both OTC and custom-fitted models available from a hearing specialist. 

The Neo HiFi is more sensitive than many other Eargo devices. The NeoHiFi is crafted to provide an enhanced hearing experience, including feedback reduction that allows for more clarity of sound. It also has noise-reduction capabilities, making it easier for users to discern conversations and sounds even in crowded environments. Unlike some hearing aids, the Neo HiFi amplifies mid and high frequencies, which gives users an experience closer to natural hearing.

Many seniors prefer hearing aids with a discreet design or devices that don’t “look” like traditional over-the-ear hearing aids. Like other prescription hearing aids from the Eargo line, the Neo HiFi is a CIC (concealed in canal) design and can be nearly invisible when worn properly. Eargo’s proprietary Flexi TetraPalm technology has a “flexis” layer for greater comfort, allowing users to wear their hearing aids for hours without discomfort.

Audicus Wave

Audicus is a stand-out among hearing aid companies for offering some of the most affordable models without sacrificing the advanced technology many users with moderate to profound hearing loss prefer. It’s a branch of the company Sonova and incorporates many of the parent company’s advances in hearing technology. It sells directly to consumers and will custom-program each hearing aid for the individual user. 

The Wave is entirely Bluetooth-enabled, allowing users to connect and listen through any supported device and vehicle as if they were listening directly through headphones. It also features the most advanced tech Audicus offers, optional rechargeable batteries, different volume settings for each hearing aid and two-directional microphones. It features a CIC fit, making the Wave nearly invisible. 

MDHearingAid Volt+

The Volt+ is the newest FDA-registered hearing aid model from MDHearingAid, with a rechargeable battery that takes just three hours to provide a full charge giving the user up to 30 hours of use. It also has two directional microphones allowing users to distinguish different voices from background noise more readily. Advanced feedback technology contributes to more natural clarity for sound. It also has comfort tip technology for a more comfortable, nearly-invisible wearing experience. 

Takeaway

DTC hearing aids can improve the quality of life for many people with mild to moderate hearing loss. The three discussed above have the best reviews and are among the better ones on the market. However, OTC hearing devices aren’t intended for individuals with profound hearing loss, and the package labeling cannot substitute for a diagnosis and care from a professional audiologist. For seniors on a budget, however, DTC hearing aids can help them better follow conversations and enjoy their favorite TV programs.

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