The Best OTC Hearing Aids
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 devices is that they are 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 sound amplifiers and DTC hearing aids are often less expensive than those 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, sound amplifier hearing aids are more of a one-size-fits-all model.
These sound amplifier hearing aids 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 sound amplifiers and hearing aids purchased from an audiologist are DTC hearing aids, which you can buy online. Unlike 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. Note that in many cases, the terms DTC and OTC are used interchangeably when referring to hearing aids you can buy online. Below are three of the DTC hearing aid brands currently selling high-quality and high-value hearing aids online.
OTC Sound Amplifiers versus DTC Hearing Aids
It’s easy to confuse over-the-counter sound amplifier devices with direct-to-consumer hearing aids that you buy online. But, the products are actually quite different and offer very different benefits. Below, we demonstrate some of the key differences between the two types of hearing devices.
Who Should Use an OTC Hearing Aid?
Buying an OTC hearing aid online is usually a sufficient solution for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. If you experience one or more of these symptoms, then a DTC/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
Pros and Cons of OTC Hearing Aids
OTC hearing aids offer some unique benefits compared to prescription hearing aids, but they aren’t right for everyone. Below, we explain some of the pros and cons of these direct-to-consumer hearing devices so you can determine if purchasing one of these hearing aids makes sense for you.
- DTC hearing aids are almost always less expensive than those purchased in an audiologists’ office
- Easier to research and compare different brands and their products online
- Better access to professional assistance (when remote care is included)
- Some OTC hearing aids are not custom-programmed by an audiologist, leading to a higher potential for over-amplification or other issues that could lead to hearing damage
- Higher risk of purchasing a device that isn’t right for you, wasting money and making hearing aids in general less appealing
- Lack of options for those with severe or profound hearing loss
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.
|Overview of the Best DTC Hearing Aids|
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- Remote audiologist care
- Comfortable, nearly invisible fit
- Advanced feedback reduction
- Starts at $2,450 per pair
Eargo hearing devices are known for being some of the most comfortably-fitting devices, and the company offers both pre-programmed and custom-fitted models available from a hearing specialist.
The Eargo 5 is more advanced than other Eargo devices. This model 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. Most importantly, Eargo 5 is equipped with Sound Match technology, which enables remote hearing aid tuning and adjustments from an audiologist.
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 Eargo 5 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.
- Direct Bluetooth streaming from Apple and Android devices
- Rechargeable battery version available (upcharge of $300)
- 10 volume settings
- Starts at $1,798 per pair
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.
- Always custom-programmed by an audiologist
- Highly accurate free online hearing test
- Includes access to Lively mobile app and remote hearing care
- Starts at $1,195 per pair
Lively is a direct-to-consumer hearing aid brand that offers two behind-the-ear hearing aids. Unlike some other DTC brands, all Lively hearing aids are custom-programmed by an audiologist via the Lively mobile app. Three years of unlimited, remote follow-up care with an audiologist is included with all Lively purchases, ensuring a safe and effective experience for wearers.
Lively hearing aids are available in a rechargeable and standard battery-powered model. Both options are Bluetooth-enabled for direct streaming and are compatible with iOS and Android devices.
Who Should Consider Buying a Hearing Aid Online
DTC hearing aids that one can buy online can improve the quality of life for many people with mild to moderate hearing loss. 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 be a suitable solution for better hearing.
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