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How to Find a Hearing Aid That's Right for You

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smiling older man with hearing aid

If you’re dealing with hearing loss, you'll soon be able to buy a hearing aid directly from stores or online, without a prescription or doctor exam. How do you find a hearing aid that’s right for you? 

Some of it depends on the severity of hearing loss and individual circumstances, says Robin Piper, AuD, CCC-A, audiologist and clinical supervisor of University Hospitals Audiology Services.

Over-the Counter Hearing Aids

The Food and Drug Administration recently authorized over-the-counter hearing aids to make hearing aids more accessible and affordable. They should be available online and in stores as early as mid-October 2022.

Only one in four adults who could benefit from hearing aids has used them, according to the National Institutes of Health. Untreated hearing loss can lead to depression, dementia and other problems. Many people also face barriers to getting affordable hearing aids because of insurance access.

Over-the-counter hearing aids are intended for people with mild to moderate hearing loss and offer a more affordable option.

“To me, the analogy would be reading glasses you buy at the drug store,” Dr. Piper says. “You don’t get a professional with it. It’s plug and play.”

She says over-the-counter hearing aids will not be appropriate for someone with significant or asymmetrical hearing loss.

“But it may be entry level for someone who has been hesitant to try hearing aids. Patients wait on average seven years from diagnosis to pursuing amplification, and we know that sustained, untreated hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline," she says. "So this may be a cost-effective way to help them.”

When to Seek a Hearing Evaluation

For more serious hearing loss, it’s important to have a comprehensive hearing evaluation by an audiologist. The evaluation determines degree of hearing loss and includes questions about a patient’s particular hearing challenges, lifestyle, communication needs and environment.

“Hearing loss is not the same for every patient,” Dr. Piper says. “Everybody’s lifestyle is unique; everybody’s perception of their hearing loss is different. It’s really important to have that conversation.”

The smallest and least visible type of hearing aid is molded to fit completely in the ear canal. It’s suited for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Custom programming and fitting of hearing aids is important in cases of advanced hearing loss.

You will find a wide range of sizes, styles and features. Some hearing aids go behind the ear, others fit in the ear or in the ear canal. You can choose rechargeable batteries or disposables, and technologies such as remote control and Bluetooth to stream music, podcasts and such.

“The style is typically driven by the degree of hearing loss,” Dr. Piper says. “The completely in the canal hearing aid is not appropriate for everyone. It depends on hearing loss, dexterity required to manipulate the devices and whether they want rechargeable or disposable batteries.”

UH audiologists can provide demonstration devices programmed for the patient’s hearing loss, so they can try them out. Dr. Piper likens the tryouts to test driving a car.

Once a patient purchases a prescription hearing aid – typical cost is $2,000 to $6,000 a pair – they are afforded a 30-day trial period under law. Patients return to the audiologist after two or three weeks from receiving the hearing aid for any adjustments or reprogramming and additional verification of appropriate fitting.

The technology has improved dramatically over the last five years for sound quality. Some people will find what they need with basic, less expensive technology rather than premium technology that comes with more options.

Related Links

Our nationally recognized team of hearing and balance experts at University Hospitals, many of whom have advanced fellowship training in the ear, nose and throat subspecialties of otology, neurotology and lateral skull base surgery, provide specialized care for ear, hearing and balance disorders. Learn more about ear, hearing and balance services at University Hospitals.

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