The hearing landscape is changing, so I want to use my expertise to advise local people in Maryland about the different hearing devices available and what is best for you.

Prescription Hearing Aids vs. Over-The-Counter Devices – What’s The Difference?

by | Dec 8, 2022 | Hearing Aids, Hearing Loss, Industry News, Patient Resources, Technology

Since my time as an audiologist and training within the hearing industry, “hearing aids” have only ever been known as hearing technology that is provided by an audiologist after an audiological evaluation.

However, in recent industry news, proposed regulations around over-the-counter hearing aids (OTCs) were released after President Joe Biden signed an executive order in July 2021 to make hearing aids more accessible and affordable with an aim to boost competition in the American economy.

The proposed regulations by the FDA described what over-the-counter hearing aids are and delved into comprehensive detail around what someone should expect when purchasing them.

For an in-depth definition of over-the-counter hearing aids, however, the regulations used a new term to describe traditional (medical grade) hearing aids so readers could differentiate the two.

“Prescription Hearing Aids” was the term used to describe the medical-grade hearing aids we have so long been used to calling “hearing aids.”

Understandably, this has created a misunderstanding in the hearing industry and raised the question of what really is a hearing aid and, for those considering hearing aids, which option is right for them?

To help local people in Maryland better understand their options and what this change means to the future of hearing care, I’ve outlined the key differences between OTCs and prescription hearing aids in this article.

Prescription Hearing Aids vs. OTC Hearing Aids – Key Differences

The first and maybe most obvious difference in the two is where you get them from.

The easiest way I like to explain this to my patients is that if you were to go to an drug store and purchase a pair of reader glasses over seeing an optometrist for a comprehensive eye assessment, your outcome would be very different.

You’d need the eye assessment to check:

  1. If you have a problem with your eyesight
  2. If you do, what level of sight loss you have
  3. Which lenses you need to ensure you have the right prescription for you

You may come out of the assessment and not have a problem at all – but there may be an underlying issue causing you to have eyestrain, not sight loss.

In this case, you could incorrectly misdiagnose yourself by purchasing readers and hence ignore a potentially dangerous underlying health condition.

The exact same goes for hearing aids.

Who Are OTCs Suitable For?

Over-the-counter hearing aids are only suitable for mild-to-moderate hearing loss – they simply amplify sound, which can sometimes further damage your hearing.

They can be great for specific situations to help you hear better, but they are not made to be worn long term or to improve your challenges in the long run.

Who Are Prescription Hearing Aids Suitable For?

The key difference with prescription hearing aids is that they provide a long-term solution for your hearing health and ensure you receive a tailored prescription with ongoing audiological care from an audiologist.

What happens when you pursue prescription hearing aids?

  1. An audiological, diagnostic hearing evaluation is required to identify the type of loss.
  2. Medical grade devices are prescribed based on the patient’s exact needs and level of loss.
  3. The prescription hearing aids are then programmed and fit by an audiologist.
  4. Your audiologist will then take any necessary steps through follow-up visits to ensure your devices are adjusted, cleaned/maintained to maximize their performance.

Also, your hearing needs are likely to continue to change over time, in fact hearing changes as we live more year – this is usually when a patient makes a change to their lifestyle, such as a new occupation or hobby, which requires new listening settings on your hearing aids.


How To Choose The Right Hearing Aid

When it comes to your health, your best option will always be to seek advice from an audiologist first. As an audiologist myself, my job is to get to know you and advise what is best for you.

This could well mean me recommending OTCs if I believe that is what is most suited to your needs – my job is to help people, not to sell hearing aids.

Hearing loss occurs so gradually that many of the local people who come to see me don’t realize the extent of their loss and are surprised that it is at a level beyond what an OTC is appropriate for. 

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned from helping over 10,000 people to achieve better hearing is that the most important part of the process is not what hearing technology you choose but the hearing expert that you choose to partner with.

When you visit Jacobs Audiology for a comprehensive hearing assessment, you are never obliged to invest in hearing aids. We see this as a great first step in your journey to better hearing, as well as an informative and educational experience for you.

If you or your loved one needs clarification on your next best steps toward healthy hearing, my team and I would love to help.

For more information, feel free to request a callback here.

To schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment, simply fill out the form on this page and we will be in touch shortly to confirm your appointment.

We look forward to meeting you!

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Marcie Jacobs, M.A., F-AAA

Marcie Jacobs has extensive experience in the field of Audiology. She became an audiologist over 25 years ago and has practiced in Southern Maryland and Prince Georges County. Jacobs Audiology was founded in 2011 with the philosophy of providing superior hearing health care for their patients. Her unique combination of empathy and energy result in excellent patient care. Marcie Jacobs obtained her Master of Science degree in Audiology from the University of Maryland in 1991.

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