Are OTC Hearing Aids Programmable?

On October 17, 2022, over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids became available at pharmacies, big box stores and some audiology offices across the country. That means consumers now have access to an affordable hearing aid option, one that may be beneficial for individuals 18 and older with mild-to-moderate hearing loss who have trouble understanding speech in difficult listening environments.  

OTC hearing aids are “one-size-fits-most” devices that can be purchased without a medical exam, prescription or professional fitting. You can set up the controls and programs we provide, and your audiologist may be able to offer guidance on device settings. However, OTC devices are not programmable in quite the same way as traditional, “prescription” hearing aids, which are dispensed by a licensed audiologist or hearing aid dispenser. Prescription hearing aids are programmed at each frequency based on an audiological evaluation, during which a patient’s hearing thresholds are measured, and information is gathered regarding the integrity of the outer, middle and inner ear. 

Personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are meant for people with normal hearing who want to amplify soft sounds or sounds at a distance, such as birds chirping. PSAPs are not medical devices, and unlike OTC hearing aids, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Hearables are situation-specific devices and are not meant to be used all day for communication purposes. They connect wirelessly to your TV, phone or laptop and may include volume control allowing you to increase or decrease the sound. Sometimes you can adjust the pitch as well. Hearables also are not regulated by the FDA. 

If you are 18 or older with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss, you may benefit from an OTC hearing aid. You can complete a formal hearing test to see whether you meet the criteria for their use, but it is not required. You decide whether you need the device and whether you perceive any benefit.  

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