Why over-the-counter hearing aids cost more long term

by Lori Cameron, Au.D., Clinical Audiologist

Recently, there has been a huge push to provide cheaper hearings aids to individuals. Most of these options are either mail order or over-the-counter (OTC) devices. The initial price tag may be less but, over the long run, mail order and OTC devices will likely cost you more.

First, mail order and OTC devices are mostly one-size-fits all. These devices do not take into consideration your unique situation, such as the severity of your hearing loss, how long your hearing loss has been untreated or your ability to process language. Because of this one-size-fits all approach, many of these devices are not capable of providing the amplification needed to treat certain types of hearing loss. Keep in mind too that audiologists and hearing instrument specialists cannot program OTC devices. If you find yourself needing help after purchasing, the device will need to be shipped back and forth, sometimes even multiple times, for fine tuning by the manufacturer. In the end, you may have to try many different devices, spending extra time and money trying to make them work for your hearing loss and lifestyle.

Louder does not mean clearer. In fact in some cases, individuals using mail order or OTC devices experience over amplification which can distort speech. Mail order and OTC devices often lead to more frustration and can even prolong treatment of hearing loss. Most people don’t realize that wearing inappropriate hearing aids or not wearing hearing aids at all can have long term implications – our ability to understand conversation decreases, our balance is affected and even our memory and cognitive skills decline.

Improving your hearing is a team approach. First, hearing care professionals take into account your total health and hearing history, the severity and type of your hearing loss and your word recognition ability (how your brain is processing language in quiet environments). They also spend time examining your physical hearing system. For example, a patient could have an occlusion in the ear (wax or foreign body) that needs to be removed or a patient could show signs of infection or even tumors visualized in the canal. Hearing care professionals also evaluate middle ear function to see if there is a need for medical or surgical evaluation. Mail order and OTC options cannot and do not measure your total hearing health.

Hearing care professionals see and help their patients many times during the course of a year. Your hearing care professional not only checks your hearing, but they also make sure your hearing aids are comfortable and working at their best. Your hearing care professional is also a key resource for learning how to care and maintain your hearing aids. For example, when you have a hearing aid that is clogged with wax or an ear canal blocked with wax, the wax is essentially a plug blocking the sound from the hearing aid. Mail order and OTC companies are not able to offer these types of one-on-one services.

Your hearing care professional is on your team for the long term - ready to discuss your daily needs and challenges. They develop a personal treatment plan for you and help select the right hearing aids to improve your hearing. Clifton Hearing offers a free screening and consultation, so come on over and let us show you the difference personalized hearing loss treatment can make.

About Dr. Lori Cameron. Lori is an Audiologist in the Pittsford and Clifton Springs locations. She focuses on Tinnitus evaluations and counseling as well as adult hearing evaluations and hearing aid fittings. She takes an educational approach when counseling her patients and their families about realistic expectations on treating hearing loss. Dr. Cameron is an active member with the Academy of Doctors of Audiology focused on advocacy efforts as well as serving as the Professional Leadership Committee Co-chair.