OTC Hearing Aids vs. Amplifiers: Which Is Right for You?

Hearing loss is a prevalent condition that often accompanies aging. As individuals grow older, the likelihood of experiencing some degree of hearing loss increases significantly, changing a person's quality of life.

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OTC Hearing Aids vs. Amplifiers: Which Is Right for You?
9 Min Read June 12th, 2023

As people age, they are more likely to experience hearing loss. According to the National Institute on Aging, approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss. For those over the age of 75, the ratio increases to one in two.

Hearing loss can significantly impact the quality of life. It can make communicating with others, participating in social activities, and maintaining employment difficult. It can also lead to social isolation, depression, and cognitive decline.

In 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. OTC hearing aids are a more affordable and convenient alternative to traditional, prescription hearing aids. They are available without a prescription and can be purchased online or at select retailers.

If you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss, it is essential to seek help. Treatment can help to improve your quality of life and prevent the complications of untreated hearing loss.

Here are some of the complications of untreated hearing loss:

  • Social isolation: Hearing loss can make it difficult to communicate with others, leading to social isolation.
  • Depression: Hearing loss can be a frustrating and isolating experience, which can lead to depression.
  • Cognitive decline: Studies have shown a link between hearing loss and cognitive impairment, including an increased risk of conditions such as dementia.
  • Safety concerns: Hearing loss can impair an individual's ability to hear important sounds like alarms, traffic, or emergency signals.

Do you suffer from hearing loss or have a loved one who does? Today there are more options to assist with poor hearing. There are many differences between over-the-counter hearing aids and amplifiers that you need to be aware of when deciding what is best. 

OTC Hearing Aids

Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are becoming more readily available. They can be purchased online or at retailers like Amazon, Walgreens, and Rite Aid. OTC hearing aids range in price from $80 to $900, with most models costing between $300 and $800.

OTC hearing aids are best for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. These types of hearing aids are considerably less expensive than prescription hearing aids. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved OTC hearing aids in 2022, intending to lower health costs while still providing safe and effective hearing aids. Another benefit of OTC hearing aids is that they do not require a medical exam or fitting by an audiologist.

However, it is important to note that OTC hearing aids are not a substitute for prescription hearing aids. Prescription hearing aids are more powerful and can be customized to the individual's hearing loss. You should see an audiologist to discuss your options if you have severe hearing loss.

If you are considering purchasing OTC hearing aids, it is important to do your research and talk to your doctor or an audiologist. They can help you determine if OTC hearing aids are right for you and provide guidance on choosing the best model for your needs.

Here are some of the benefits of OTC hearing aids:

  • Cost-effective: OTC hearing aids are much less expensive than prescription hearing aids.
  • Convenient: OTC hearing aids can be purchased online or at select retailers, and they do not require a medical exam or fitting by an audiologist.
  • Effective: OTC hearing aids can improve hearing in people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Types of Hearing Aids

There are several types of hearing devices that someone can consider:

Mini-behind-the-ear hearing aids (mBTE)

This particular hearing aid has several different names, such as receiver-in-the-aid (RITA), receiver-in-the-canal (RIC), canal receiver technology (CRT), and receiver-in-the-ear (RITE). This hearing aid is attached by a thin wire and has an earmold that fits snuggly in the ear canal. It sends sounds to the inner ear. These hearing aids can be found over the counter.

This type of hearing aid is barely visible. It fits comfortably and should not give you a plugged-up feeling in your ear. A nice feature for people with arthritis or other hand issues is that larger versions of mBTE hearing aids are easier to insert. A con to this hearing aid is that wax and moisture buildup may limit the receiver's life. It does not allow for significant amplification, especially at low frequencies.

Traditional behind-the-ear hearing aids (BTE)

Traditional behind-the-ear hearing aids contain all their electronic components in a plastic case that is worn behind the ear. The sound is sent to the ear through the tubing that connects the case to the receiver via a custom earmold worn in the ear canal.

This type of hearing aid has flexible features and considerable low- and high-frequency amplification. It is good for those with severe hearing loss. The controls are easy to manage, and the earmold can be cleaned easily. Batteries can also be added to the hearing aids for extra power, and there is minimal feedback. Some of the downsides of this model are that they are more easily seen, more subject to sweat and wax buildup, and can give you the sensation of your ear being plugged.

Completely-in-the-canal hearing aids (CIC)

Completely-in-the-canal hearing aids are recessed in the ear. They fit deep and tight in the ear. This style has minimal feedback when used with a phone. These hearing aids have low visibility because they fit in the ear canal. 

Completely-in-the-canal aids can be removed with a removal string and are less sensitive to wind noise. Because this hearing aid sits entirely in the ear canal, this style may make the ear may feel plugged unless the hearing aids are well-vented. They are vulnerable to wax buildup and moisture. 

The hearing aids can only have a small battery making the battery life shorter. Also, the battery can be hard to insert and remove, an important consideration for those with arthritis or finger mobility issues. It can also be difficult to adjust. Completely-in-the-canal hearing aids can be found over the counter.

In-the-canal hearing aids (ITC)

In-the-canal hearing aids fit deep inside the ear canal. Larger units can include directional microphones. There are more cons to in-the-canal hearing aids. People complain of discomfort when wearing these models. This model is also susceptible to moisture, and the receiver is vulnerable to clogging from earwax. They can be difficult to adjust. The battery is small and therefore has a shorter battery life and may be difficult to change. Finally, in-the-canal hearing aids can be found OTC.

Traditional-in-the-ear hearing aids (ITE)

Traditional-in-the-ear hearing aids' electronic components are included within a case that rests in the bowl of the outer ear. This provides room for features such as wireless streaming, a telecoil, and a directional microphone. They have less of a plugged-up feeling when vented. They are also relatively easy to insert. 

Traditional-in-the-ear hearing aids are more visible than other options. Because they are smaller, the telecoil may not be as powerful as the behind-the-ear hearing aids. Traditonal-in-the-ear hearing aids are not over-the-counter because they are custom-fitted and made.

Over-the-counter hearing aids (OTC)

Over-the-counter hearing aids can be bought directly by consumers without seeing a specialist. These provide a more affordable option and are designed to treat adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. OTC hearing aids are more affordable. 

The average price of OTC hearing aids is $1,600, whereas prescription hearing aids are $3,000 or more. The FDA regulates over-the-counter hearing aids but does not require a hearing exam, prescription, or fitting appointment. These hearing aids can be purchased in retail stores and online. 

Some downsides to OTC hearing aids include not being custom fitted for your ear, having fewer features than prescription hearing aids, and no in-person care provided after purchase. The OTC hearing aids come with a shorter warranty than prescription hearing aids. 

Hearing Amplifiers

Hearing amplifiers are also known as personal sound-amplifying products. Just like OTC hearing aids, hearing amplifiers do not require a prescription or a professional visit. Hearing amplifiers do not correct hearing loss. The prices do vary but are generally significantly cheaper than hearing aids. Amplifiers range in price from a low of $31 to a high of $180. Most hearing amplifiers run about $100. 

How Hearing Amplifiers Work

Hearing amplifiers work by amplifying every sound without differentiation. They cannot clarify nearby sounds or isolate sound frequencies. Hearing amplifiers can be a good first choice for people with mild hearing loss. They can also help people without hearing loss hear far-away sounds. Therefore, they are often used by hunters and bird watchers. Most hearing amplifiers have a pocket device and earbuds or headphones. They can also have a wireless neckband with an earbuds option. 

Advantages of Hearing Amplifiers

Hearing amplifiers do not require a prescription. They do not require the services of an audiologist or a hearing aid professional. Hearing amplifiers are easily accessible to the public, and they are less expensive than OTC hearing aids. Hearing amplifiers can be an easy first step for the reluctant hearing impaired person. 

Disadvantages of Hearing Amplifiers

One disadvantage of hearing amplifiers is that the FDA does not regulate them. Hearing amplifiers do not distinguish pitch, and because they make all sounds louder, they can cause further hearing loss. They do not improve hearing loss or clarify close sounds. 

Advantages of Improved Hearing

Hearing aids improve your relationships

Hearing loss can strain relationships with your family and friends. Hearing loss makes communication harder, and people have to rely more on facial expressions and lip reading when they're talking to someone. Using hearing aids will help with better communication. There will be fewer interruptions to get clarification of what someone said or ask them to repeat their point.

Hearing aids improve your social life

Sadly, isolation can be the result of poor hearing. Some people withdraw and avoid getting help with their hearing loss simply because hearing is so difficult. Wearing hearing aids can help people feel more comfortable in social gatherings and cause them to be more likely to initiate a conversation. This will help in maintaining friendships as well as making new friends. It is also helpful when a friend or a family member understands a person's hearing loss.

Hearing aids improve your mental health

Since poor hearing can sometimes result in isolation, mental health is bound to be adversely affected. Research shows that people who have hearing loss have the potential to be more depressed and anxious. Hearing aids can provide a sense of independence and security and can increase self-esteem during communication with others. This can result in a better overall quality of life.

Hearing aids improve your balance

Wearing hearing aids can help balance by improving situational awareness, including sound direction, which helps people stay steady on their feet. This reduces the risk of falls and injuries and increases confidence outside the home. Improved hearing helps in maintaining an active and independent lifestyle.

Finally, hearing can affect your social life, independence, health, and happiness.

If you suffer from hearing loss, consider your different hearing aid options. If you're someone who just needs a little amplification, whether you're listening to a lecture or bird watching, consider investing in hearing amplifiers. Hearing affects every part of life, so do not let your hearing loss negatively impact your quality of life.  

If you are experiencing substantial hearing loss, seeing a doctor or an audiologist is important to get a diagnosis and treatment plan.

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About the Author

Scarlet Baker has worked as a freelance blogger for years. Armed with degrees in journalism and creative writing from the University of Iowa, she writes professionally on many topics.

LTC News Contributor Scarlet Baker

Scarlet Baker

Contributor since June 12th, 2023

Editor's Note

Hearing loss can significantly impact a person's lifestyle. It can make communicating with others, participating in social activities, and maintaining employment difficult. It can also lead to social isolation, depression, and cognitive decline. 

Hearing loss can also lead to the need for long-term care. As people with hearing loss age, they may become more dependent on others for help with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and eating. They may also need help with transportation and managing their finances.

In some cases, people with hearing loss may need to move to a long-term care facility as in-home care providers may get overwhelmed. Long-term care facilities provide various services, including 24-hour care, meals, transportation, and activities. They can also assist with hearing loss, such as providing hearing aids or assistive listening devices.

If you or someone you know is experiencing hearing loss, it is crucial to seek help. Several effective treatments are available, including hearing aids, cochlear implants, and surgery. Treatment can help to improve your quality of life and prevent the complications of untreated hearing loss.

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