On Monday, consumers can buy hearing aids without a prescription, possibly saving thousands of dollars per pair.
The new devices — designed for those with mild to moderate hearing loss — are expected to transform the hearing aid market. They are being sold at stores and online without a medical exam, prescription or special fitting by an audiologist. This follows a ruling on Aug. 16, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed to allow over-the-counter hearing aids to be sold directly to consumers.
Although the first models are expected to largely resemble the devices you can get through a hearing professional, there are some important differences.
Here are five ways over-the-counter devices differ from prescription versions.
Authors Frank Lin and Nicholas Reed at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine lay out the steps to hearing health, including new advice on just-released over-the-counter hearing aids.
1. Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are for mild to moderate hearing loss only, while prescription hearing aids can help with all types of hearing loss.
- Over-the-counter hearing aids: They are intended for adults with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss, the FDA says. That means your hearing loss range is between 20 and 60 decibels (dB). And you don’t need a hearing test to try out an over-the-counter device, the FDA says. Signs that you may have mild to moderate hearing loss include: You often ask people to repeat themselves or speak up, speech sounds muffled, you have trouble hearing in noisy places or you turn up the volume on the TV higher than other people prefer.
- Prescription hearing aids: If you have severe hearing loss, you need prescription devices. You may have severe hearing loss if you have difficulty hearing in a quiet place and trouble hearing loud sounds, such as a truck driving by. Some experts say prescription devices are also a better choice for those with hearing loss in only one ear, those whose hearing loss was caused by excessive noise damage or those whose hearing loss was caused by chemotherapy or another drug, since those conditions can be difficult to treat.