I’ve already written a lot about OTC aids, including What Do Over the Counter Hearing Aids Mean for You? and Over the Counter Hearing Aids: Coming Soon to a Store Near You. So I don’t have a lot new to say today, as OTC aids finally go on sale at pharmacies, Walmart, Best Buy and others. But the market can be confusing — to the point of overwhelming — for first time buyers, so here a couple of important reminders (below). And here is a link to a good Washington Post article laying out the basics: Hearing aids are now sold over-the-counter. Here’s how to pick one.
One surprising fact in the Post article is the cost of the aids: “Retailers have announced over-the-counter hearing aids ranging from $199 to $3,000.” Wow, if you’re going to pay that kind of money for a hearing aid, you are much better off going to an audiologist and getting a proper fit. You can also get an excellent brand-name hearing aid at Costco, with the advice of an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist, for far less than $3000. The Post doesn’t say which retailers are charging those high fees (although Best Buy has announced that it will have at least one at that price), but buyer beware. If you’re paying that kind of money, get the advice of a licensed hearing professional.
The article mentions a few other things a first-time hearing-aid buyer might fail to consider, which experienced users can tell you are crucial to a good experience. One is Bluetooth connectivity: if your hearing aid connects to your smart phone by Bluetooth, you’ll be able to hear not only phone calls but podcasts, recorded books, movies, your grandkids’ videos and so on — as if you still had excellent hearing. The Bluetooth signal takes the sound directly to your ear. You can also connect to your TV by Bluetooth, as well as to your computer and other electronics.
OTC hearing aids are not required to have another feature that experienced users vouch for: a telecoil. It’s a tiny element, often called a T-Coil, that allows you to hear in large areas like the newly renovated Geffen Hall (formerly Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City), which has installed hearing loops in the performance spaces as well as at ticket counters, shops and other locations. Here’s an explanation of loop technology from Metro Sound Technology, which installed the Geffen loops. Many theaters, places of worship and municipal buildings around the country and especially in the U.K. also have installed loops. Just look for the Hearing Loop sign, which should be prominently posted.
Loop technology, like Bluetooth technology, takes the sound right to your ear. Neither of these technologies requires any additional equipment. You just change the program on your hearing aid.
The Post article lists a number of other features to look out for, perhaps most important is a 30 to 45 day return policy. It takes a while to get used to hearing aids. They may not sound right at first, but wearing them daily will give your ears and brain time to adjust to the new sound. If they’re still not right after a few weeks, state laws require free returns. You may need another style or brand. If you’re working with an audiologist, your aid may just need some tinkering with the programming.
As I’ve said before, I’m all in favor of Over the Counter availability for hearing aids, in the hope that more people will wear hearing aids, that competition will bring down prices, and that stigma will be reduced. Starting today, we’ll see exactly what’s coming on the market.
For more about living with hearing loss, read my books: “Smart Hearing: Strategies, Skills and Resources for Living Better with Hearing Loss.” and And “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I and 50 Million Other Americans Can’t Hear You.” Both are available as ebook or paperback, on Amazon.com.