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OTC Hearing Aids Buying Guide

OTC hearing aids, or over-the-counter models, are an option that many are choosing to help fight off mild to moderate hearing loss. But they're not all the same, and many come with different features and settings. Here, we'll take you through all your different options—so you can know whether they're right for you or your loved one.
A charging case with hearing aids in them

Why Choose OTC Hearing Aids?

When it comes to health and personal care, hearing aids are a must-have for those with hearing loss—and the market for solutions is expanding every year. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on appointments and fittings with an audiologist, OTC hearing aids make it easy to buy the product, walk out and experience improved hearing on the same day. Both prescription and OTC options have their pros and cons, which we'll dive into below. The main thing to know before considering OTC hearing aids is that they are made only for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. If you experience severe hearing loss, you will likely need to see a professional for a prescription aid. However, when properly used, both types can help users thrive, where they were previously having trouble, experiencing communication issues and even loneliness. For those with mild to moderate hearing loss, OTC hearing aids are a great way to boost quality of life, all by helping a user get one of their senses under control.

How Do They Work?

Both prescription and OTC hearing aids work in similar ways to help amplify sound for the user. Very small microphones pick up on sounds, boost the signal, and carry them to the inside of an ear with help from a speaker. In that way, they both function similarly. But what makes prescription models seem so premium is likely the assistance users get from experts. When it comes to fitting and future problems, there's always an expert to help. But new and better OTC hearing aids are showing just how mighty their science can be, all while allowing users to make a simple one time purchase. And with a range of price points and features, some who would otherwise been boxed out from having a prescription aid can now afford to hear again.
That being said, all over-the-counter hearing aids aren't the same. You can tell just from the prices. Some stick closer to the $200 range, while others are above $900—but you'll be paying for more features that might really make a difference. Some use disposable batteries, while others use a rechargable case, for example. We'll break down even more of these differences below.
A bright white haired woman with an internal hearing aid

Interior or Exterior?

There are two common shapes in both prescription and OTC hearing aids. Not sure which one is better? The answer is a bit simple: choose the one you think you'll be more likely to wear.
  • Inside The Ear: These are smaller and harder for others to see, making them a good option for those who are hoping for discretion. They're barely noticeable, or look just like earbuds.
  • Behind The Ear: An outer-ear hearing aid is what you likely picture when you think of these products. These have two connected components: one that fits directly into the ear canal, and another that sits behind the ear.
So, which one should you choose? There are a few factors, like visibility. If you prefer wearing a model that's less visible, an in-the-ear model is the choice for you. However, some say that behind-the-ear models are a bit more skilled when it comes to filtering out background noise. The biggest factor is likely going to be wearability: you should choose the OTC hearing aid that you think you'll be able to wear most and easiest. That leads into our next point.

Self-Fitting vs. Preset Audio Settings

If you've been shopping around for hearing aids, you may have heard the terms "self-fitting" or "preset" before. These terms refer to whether the sound settings are adjusted/adjustable or preset. There are benefits to both, but before you buy, consider a few factors, such as how tech-friendly the user is. Self-fitting models require wearers to use a smartphone app to correctly adjust the device until it's well fitted for the user's volume preferences. They tend to be a bit more expensive, as they are often more finely tuned and complicated. These models target the sound levels wearers have the hardest time hearing, all for a great listening experience. However, you have to tune them yourself (generally via smartphone app). If your OTC-hearing aid user isn't great at using their phone and is less tech-savvy, consider a preset model instead. Before you buy, make sure that the model you purchase works with the phone you have, too.
Preset over-the-counter hearing aids are a better option for some. These choices are often more affordable than self-fitting models and require no adjustment. All you do is place it in your ear comfortably and experience a new level of hearing. Preset OTC hearing aids often are designed around a few different preset programs, crafted to help those with different levels of hearing loss. These are a good option for many users, especially once they find the setting that fits their needs. If you have mild to moderate hearing loss and don't love fiddling with apps on your smartphone, these OTC hearing aids might be the best option for you.

Which One Is Right For You?

Knowing all this about OTC hearing aids, it's time to make a decision. You may know exactly what you need from reading up with our guide with your mild to moderate hearing loss—or you may now understand that your severe hearing loss might be better served by a prescription model fine-tuned by an audiologist, otolaryngologist or a licensed specialist in hearing aids. But if you still have questions, our team of in-house experts is here to answer them. We'll help you decide if an interior or exterior pick is the right model for you, and we can help provide personalized advice regarding the different features of individual products. Call us at 800-860-3577, or if you're local, head into our Chicagoland store in Glenview. Alternatively, order online for fast shipping.