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What You Might Not Know About Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

If you’re in the market for hearing aids, you’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about over-the-counter options, also known as personal sound amplification devices (PSAPs). You might be tempted by the price tag, but if you expect them to improve your hearing as well as FDA-approved medical hearing aids, you will be disappointed.

Think of it like this: You need a new car and go shopping for something that drives like a Porché or Ferrari. But because of the sticker price, you come home with a Smart car. Do you think you’d be equally satisfied with its performance? Unlikely ― and here’s why the same can be said for hearing aids.

It’s not just about volume

Improving hearing requires more than just making everything sound louder, which is about all PSAPs can do. But if hearing loss only occurs at a certain frequency or affects you more in particular listening environments, an across-the-board volume increase isn’t enough.

When you purchase PSAPs over-the-counter, there’s no hearing care professional involved to tailor them to your requirements. Even if there were, customization opportunities would be limited. Only the pricier PSAP models include features like directional microphones and noise reduction. Most are simply little sound amplifiers that make everything equally loud, including speech you want to hear and noise you don’t. Meanwhile, actual hearing aids are loaded with technology that enables them to automatically adjust to your hearing and lifestyle needs and preferences, no matter how complex.

Convenient? Cheap? Think again

Picking up a PSAP online or at your local drug store may indeed be more convenient than making an appointment with a hearing care professional for a fitting, but only if you don’t consider what comes next. Once you bring home a PSAP, you are on your own ― no one will be available to show you how to care for the device, clean it, remove it, replace the batteries, or service it when something goes wrong. When a hearing care professional is involved, you get all of that and more for the life of your real hearing aids. With a good maintenance routine and follow-up appointments to ensure your devices are working properly or adjusted as needed, you can expect to get far more use out of them than the cheaper options you’ll likely have to keep replacing.

The primary reason you might want a PSAP is to save money, but that can add up, too. Again, because you aren’t involving a professional to assess your hearing loss and match your hearing devices accordingly, you’re probably going to find yourself buying one PSAP after the other while searching for one that actually works to your satisfaction. Considering they run an average $300-$600 for a decent PSAP you could easily wind up forking over as much as you would have (or more) for one pair of real, custom-fit hearing aids.

Leaving out the professional does more harm than good

Hearing loss is often trivialized as a nuisance rather than treated as a serious condition. It simply can’t be treated effectively by plugging amplifiers into your ears. Thorough treatment is a process that includes:

  • Hearing test
  • Follow-up fittings
  • Fine-tuning sessions
  • Education about hearing loss
  • Setting realistic expectations
  • Counseling on how to develop effective communication strategies

You miss out on these essential elements when you buy PSAPs, not to mention all of the other benefits hearing aids can provide. Instead of just making everything louder, real hearing aids can actually discern between noise and speech you want to hear, and automatically adjust so you can hear words clearly while background noise is reduced. Hearing aids can help you hear better in wind, rooms with excessive reverberation, crowds, and other challenging listening environments, PSAPs cannot.

Also overlooked is that hearing problems can be indicators of underlying health issues. Untreated hearing loss has been linked to the following:

  • Stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Increased likelihood of falls
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

An office visit with a complete hearing evaluation could reveal a connection between your hearing loss and an as-yet undiagnosed health risk. But if you just get a PSAP, you probably won’t bother seeing an audiologist or other doctor, so any underlying disease could remain unidentified.

The old adage, you get what you pay for definitely holds true when it comes to comparing PSAPs to hearing aids. Isn’t your hearing ―and your health ― worth the investment?