You’ve probably heard that hearing aids will soon be available over-the-counter.  What does that mean and how are they different?


Amplifiers (or PSAPs)

These devices have been around for a while at drugstores and do not require a prescription.  They are the original “over-the-counter” hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.  These devices usually range in price from ~ $100-$300.  Unlike traditional hearing aids, they do not have sophisticated sound processing technology, nor any ability to customize how the devices are programmed.  Their only purpose is to make all sound louder.


Hearing Aids

Hearing aids are Class 1 medical devices regulated by the FDA and available through hearing healthcare providers.  They are customized specifically for a person’s hearing loss that can range anywhere in degree from mild to profound.  Depending on the sophistication of the technology inside, these devices can range in price from ~ $2,000-$6,000.  Higher level devices have stronger processing of background noise in complex listening environments.  Any sort of hearing aid requires an incredible amount of dexterity and visual acuity to work with, which can become more difficult as a person ages.  Typically included with the purchase of hearing aids are programming adjustments, troubleshooting, cleaning, supplies, and cerumen removal from the hearing care provider.


Over-the-Counter (OTC)

These devices will be somewhere in between the two categories mentioned above and appropriate for those with mild to moderate degrees of hearing loss.  They will not require a prescription or hearing care provider but will have similar technology to traditional hearing aids.  Without a hearing test as a requirement for how the devices are programmed, we aren’t quite sure how they are more “custom” than amplifiers.  We think they will likely require an app on a smart phone to walk a person through their sound preferences.  This may be a great option for those who are well-versed in technology and capable of physically manipulating the device, but may not be appropriate for people who need a more personalized solution.


We compare OTC hearing aids to reader glasses– appropriate for some people with minimal difficulties, but not a custom solution for all.