Hearing aids — the words most people use to categorize a hearing treatment device that’s fitted by a hearing specialist — are now not the most accurate words needed to describe them.
Because in October 2021, following President Biden’s Executive Order in July, the government finally released its proposed regulations for selling over-the-counter hearing aids.
The reason for the order was to try to get more people with a hearing loss to treat it rather than neglect it, and it cited cost as the major prohibitor to treatment.
The regulations around selling over-the-counter hearing aids are very specific and numerous, so we have summarized them here for you so you can quickly grasp what they might mean for you as a consumer.
But to make it super simple, hearing aids prescribed and fitted by a hearing professional will now be termed “prescription hearing aids.”
Prescription Hearing Aids
Again, “prescription hearing aids” is simply a way to describe hearing aids that are fit and maintained by a hearing healthcare specialist. With over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids becoming widely available, the term clarifies the differences in hearing devices.
The terminology is very comparable to the way we discuss glasses. “Readers” or “cheater” eyeglasses are widely available for people who are not ready to commit to full-time-use eyeglasses, or they might not need to use the glasses all the time.
For those with more impaired vision, the use of prescription lenses in custom-fit eyeglasses is necessary.
Similarly, OTC hearing aids are for those who have only a mild degree of hearing loss or need help communicating in certain situations, while prescription hearing aids are available for those who perceive their hearing loss to be more disruptive to communication.
The Key Differences Between Prescription Hearing Aids And Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids
As professionals, we make recommendations for our patients and clients based not only on their hearing loss, but also on their lifestyle and communication needs – just like an ophthalmologist prescribes eyeglasses to address your exact vision needs.
An ophthalmologist performs a thorough evaluation of a person’s vision needs and prescribes particular lenses that will help that person achieve better vision – as close to “normal” vision as they can get.
It is truly the same with hearing aids prescribed by a hearing healthcare professional – we perform a series of evaluations and a lifestyle evaluation. We not only make recommendations about which hearing aid will be most appropriate for an individual, but we also perform the fine-tuning necessary to ensure that person gets the most benefit from the devices.
OTC devices, in this case, are simply like cheater or reader glasses. They are a one-size-fits-all solution for people who may not be ready for professionally fit prescription hearing aids but who need some type of help hearing.
How To Decide If You Need Prescription Or Over-The-Counter Hearing Devices
The first step in this decision should always be to have a hearing evaluation performed by an audiologist. Every evaluation will begin with a detailed case history to help give the professional an idea about:
- family history of hearing loss,
- hearing loss secondary to other medical conditions or treatments, or
- hearing loss due to noise exposure.
Each of these different cases will involve a different type of hearing loss, which might lead to a different type of treatment. There is simply no way to assess the need for one over the other without including an assessment by a hearing professional.
The hearing evaluation itself also serves to not only diagnose the degree of hearing loss a person experiences, but it might also uncover medical issues that need to be managed by an ear physician.
Audiologists always examine the ear canal and tympanic membrane for abnormalities as part of a comprehensive hearing assessment.
While we might find something as simple as a middle ear infection, we sometimes find something as serious as a growth on the auditory nerve – an acoustic neuroma, and a referral to an ENT is warranted. Without a thorough evaluation, it is not possible to identify these conditions.
It is surprising how many people think that they have a permanent hearing loss when their ear canals are simply occluded with earwax! A quick examination of the ear canal can identify this problem, and oftentimes when the earwax is removed, hearing problems resolve!
Audiologist Or Online Hearing Test?
One of the most important parts of a hearing evaluation is testing an individual’s ability to understand speech, both in quiet and noisy listening environments.
Some people live with an untreated hearing loss for many years, and the part of the brain responsible for processing speech sounds goes unstimulated by the auditory nerve during that time.
We know that everything having to do with the brain is a “use it or lose it” situation – so we have to keep the auditory nerve stimulated in order to maintain sound processing abilities. A professional hearing test will check your hearing sensitivity for tones, which will finger point exactly why your inability to understand speech has become compromised and treat it properly.
Only prescription hearing aids help process exact pitches and tones. OTC hearing aids will not be appropriate for these folks who are tone sensitive.
Confused About Choosing OTC Hearing Aids vs. Prescription Hearing Aids?
If you are feeling overwhelmed by all of the options available to you, absolutely schedule a hearing evaluation and consultation with an audiologist. The best option is always to go directly to the source of the most information at one time.
While the internet has a great deal of information available, it is important to remember that the information you see is written by the manufacturers of the different devices — whether it be about prescription hearing aids or OTC hearing aids — with one goal: to sell you their product.
An audiologist has experience with all types of hearing devices and can provide you with the pros and cons of them all, with the emphasis only on which one is best for you rather than on a manufacturer’s sales numbers.
We welcome all your questions about hearing aids here at Audicles. We’ve been serving the San Antonio area for 75 years now, and we are trusted by patients, medical organizations, and physicians for good reason.
Schedule your hearing evaluation to learn about your unique hearing needs, and we’ll give you our recommendations right after the exam.
Don’t hesitate to call us at 210-820-0525 with any questions you have about OTC hearing aids and prescription hearing aids. Or contact us through the website form. That’s what we are here for!