It seems that more and more frequently I am getting questions about online or over the counter (OTC) hearing aids and how the prices and quality compare to what you may receive through a Doctor of Audiology. I encourage people to do research and talk to friends and family about their experiences, but this does not replace the expertise of a trained professional. However, if you are going to look online, here are five tips to help you make an informed decision.

  1. Know what you are looking at. Over the counter (OTC) hearing aids are meant to be a specific category of amplification that is designed to be easily accessible, affordable, and add a layer of technology between a simple amplifier device and a high quality prescriptive hearing device.  However, the FDA has not created or categorized OTC devices yet; and their release is still a long way off.  Any products you see online or in retail stores, even if they are listed as OTC, are technically still amplifiers. Amplifiers are a category of hearing devices that are non prescriptive, have limited capabilities, and do not need to be fit by a professional.  These are typically what you are purchasing if you buy online or in retail stores like Walmart. Amplifiers make everything equally loud and are not set to your specific hearing levels. They are typically inexpensive to purchase and cheap quality. They are meant for individuals with mild hearing loss. Although amplifiers are simple, they can still cause damage to your hearing if not used properly.

  2. Watch out for scams.  Unfortunately there are many websites out there that offer seemingly great products and prices, but in actuality provide poor quality and service. If it seems too good to be true, it just may be. One way to check is by reading reviews. You must still be wary if their website boasts all positive reviews and there are no other reviews on Google or other sights to corroborate their ratings. Some companies will create fake reviews to pad their website and lure your into a false sense of security.

  3. Check out the company. You can look at most companies on the Better Business Bureau or consumer reports. Make sure none of the companies or products on the reports are paying to be listed or financing the research. Research should be done by non affiliated third party organizations that do not receive money based on the results.

  4. Know policies and procedures. Many consumers of online products report poor customer service. Most products boast a 100% money back guarantee, but in reality fail to return messages or take products back and return money when they do not work for you. Any reputable company will have standard policies that they adhere to for all clients. Most offer trials and will want to find a product that is right for you.

  5. See a professional. As mentioned in the first tip, OTC and amplifier devices are designed for individuals with mild hearing loss, but do not require an evaluation to confirm severity of hearing. A professional such, as a Doctor of Audiology, can give you a full diagnostic hearing evaluation to rule out complications, conform your hearing severity and configuration, and help you decide which options are right for you.  Audiology practices will have varying styles of technology at a variety of prices. They may even offer payment options. Be clear about your goals, lifestyle, and budget in order to get the right device for your needs. They will also be there to support you with auditory therapy, assistive devices, communication strategies, care and maintenance, regular testing, and programming adjustments in order to ensure you are getting the most out of your hearing devices and taking the best care of your hearing health.

Hearing is an important sense and has a variety of other health implications when not treated properly. Although cost can be an important factor, it should never be the only factor. You often get what you pay for. You will save in the long run by not wasting money on poor quality products. Some things are worth the cost.

“There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.” – John Ruskin  

Authored by Sarah Lundstrom, Au.D.


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