Americans love convenience. So it’s easy to understand the appeal of hearing aids that you can pluck right off your local pharmacy shelf. No waiting, no fitting–just instant gratification. But this rosy vision of the future may require a few caveats.
A little caution is important because, starting late in 2020, over-the-counter hearing aids will start popping up in stores. And that puts a lot of onus on consumers like you to know what’s what. The stakes of those decisions are relatively high; get it wrong and your hearing could pay the price. So, with great convenience comes great responsibility.
What Is an Over the Counter Hearing Aid?
In some sense, an over-the-counter hearing aid will be a lot like any other hearing aid. The devices are designed to amplify sounds in order to compensate for the effects of hearing loss. In this way, OTC hearing aids are better than they were in the past.
But the process of purchasing an OTC hearing aid is a little more complicated than buying a bottle of ibuprofen. Here’s how it should work:
- You would undergo a hearing screening and receive an audiogram.
- Your audiogram gives you a readout of your overall hearing health, including what frequencies of sound you need help hearing.
- You would then match your choice of hearing solution to your specific hearing loss. The reality is that some kinds of hearing loss can’t be adequately treated using over-the-counter devices. For the ones that are, you want to make sure you get as close to what you need as possible.
In theory, this process will help you select a hearing aid that’s right for your level of ailment. That doesn’t necessarily mean your local pharmacy will have your hearing aid in stock, however. So don’t be tempted to get something that’s “close enough.”
The Responsibility Part
In theory this probably all sounds pretty great. For some, OTC hearing aids will cut down on the costs involved and allow more people to enjoy healthier hearing. But we weren’t kidding when we said it places a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of consumers.
When a consumer goes right from an audiogram to an OTC hearing aid, here’s what they miss out on:
- A good fit: Your hearing specialist will be able to help you select a style and fit of hearing aid that will feel comfortable in your ears. Sometimes, a mold of your ear will be taken to ensure a custom fit and maximum comfort. Getting a good fit will help make sure that you are comfortable enough to wear it every day.
- Testing: Fittings also ensure that the hearing aid is working the way that it should. This includes testing it while you’re still in the office and making sure it works for you.
- Adjustments: Your hearing specialist will be able to make several types of adjustments that can help your hearing aid function better in a variety of common environments. This kind of fine-tuning can be essential to the long-term enjoyment of your hearing aids.
- Advice: Your hearing specialist is a fountain of knowledge! So you’re likely to receive a lot of useful information about your hearing aid, how to use your hearing aids, and how to adjust to your new level of hearing.
You Can Have the Best of Both Worlds
It’s worth pointing out that over-the-counter hearing aids aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that consumers should use a little bit of caution when making their selection. For most people, keeping their hearing specialist in the loop will be a good way to make sure they’re getting the care they need in addition to the technology they want.
If you purchase an OTC hearing aid, you can still meet with your hearing specialist to ensure you’re getting the maximum customization possible. That way, you can be sure your hearing aid will work for you and your needs.
This can help you share the responsibility a bit with somebody who is highly trained and knowledgeable. Walking into your local pharmacy to purchase your hearing aid will be easy, convenient, and exciting. Best of all, you don’t have to do it alone.