Skip to content

Over-the-counter hearing devices vs. prescription hearing aids

Woman testing different hearing devices

The United States recently introduced new hearing aid legislation that makes it easy to purchase over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids from local retailers or online. The Canadian Academy of Audiology (CAA) predicts that Canada will soon follow suit. While this may seem like an accessible way to get the hearing devices you need, it also poses several challenges. Here’s what you should know.

Disadvantages of OTC hearing devices

Although OTC hearing devices may be suitable for some people, they differ from prescription hearing aids in the following four ways:

They don’t require input from an audiologist

Unlike professional hearing aids, OTC hearing devices don’t require you to have a prescription or take a hearing test beforehand. This is problematic because, without the guidance of a professional audiologist, you may end up with a device that further damages your hearing. In addition, hearing loss varies considerably from person to person, and it’s important to have an audiologist fine-tune your hearing aids.

They’re only intended for mild hearing loss

If you suffer from severe hearing loss or a condition like tinnitus, an OTC hearing device likely won’t be very helpful. Without a comprehensive hearing exam from a professional audiologist, you won’t know the degree of your hearing loss and could end up spending money on a device that won’t sufficiently meet your needs. Prescription hearing aids, on the other hand, can accommodate a wide range of hearing impairments.

They’re one size fits all

Prescription hearing aids are specifically designed and fitted to your ear’s unique shape. This isn’t the case with OTC hearing devices. They only come in one or two standard sizes that could be uncomfortable or ill-fitting. In addition, they’re extremely basic and only come with factory pre-sets for hearing loss, which may not be precise enough for your specific needs.

They don’t have any smart features

Prescription hearing aids come with several smart features, including Bluetooth connectivity and programmable amplification. These plusses effectively improve your ability to hear in specific situations, particularly when you’re in an environment with a lot of background noise. However, OTC hearing devices don’t come with any of these extras and may not provide you with the hearing amplification you need.

Types of prescription hearing aids

Prescription hearing aids are tailor-made to fit the unique shape of your ears. In addition, there are various types designed to suit the specific needs. Here’s an overview of four kinds of hearing aids:

  1. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids sit behind or on top of the ear. They usually have a small clear tube that connects to an earpiece in the ear canal. They’re one of the most popular types of hearing aids on the market because they’re durable and suitable for a wide range of hearing impairments. BTE hearing aids have a long battery life and are practical for individuals with limited motor skills and children. However, they’re sensitive to the sound of wind.
  2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids are worn on the bowl-shaped area of the outer ear and often have built-in volume controls. In addition, since they don’t sit over the ear, ITE hearing aids are suitable for people who wear glasses and are comfortable to use when playing sports. However, because of their location, they’re prone to moisture buildup.
  3. Receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids sit behind the ear and are connected by a thin wire to a receiver inside the opening of your ear canal. They’re more discreet than BTE hearing aids and are barely visible when worn. Furthermore, RIC hearing aids provide more natural sound quality and are standard for first time hearing aid wearers because of their ease of use. However, they’re susceptible to earwax buildup.
  4. Invisible-in-canal (IIC) hearing aids are the smallest type of hearing aid on the market. They sit deep inside the ear canal and are typically made in darker shades to blend in with the shadows of the ear, making them virtually undetectable. However, because of their small size, IIC hearing aids don’t provide the same amount of power as larger models and aren’t suitable for severe hearing loss.

When choosing a hearing aid, you must take into account several factors such as your ear anatomy, lifestyle, budget and more. The professional audiologists and hearing aid practitioners at Soundwave Hearing Care are available to help you determine which type of hearing aid is right for you.

Hearing aid specialists in Alberta

At Soundwave Hearing Care, we provide comprehensive hearing tests and carry a range of innovative products. Our team of audiologists and hearing aid practitioners can help you weigh your options and find the solution that works best. For more information about our products and services, contact us at our Calgary, Lethbridge, High River or Grande Prairie location.

All the blogs are reviewed and edited by our clinic's lead audiologist, Dr. Anne Wooliams. Dr. Woolliams is an experienced audiologist specialized in pediatric audiology, auditory processing, and tinnitus/sound sensitivity therapy. She is dedicated to providing top-notch hearing care and helping her clients improve their language and communication abilities. Dr. Woolliams' expertise in literature and linguistics, combined with her passion for helping people improve their language and communication, make her an incredibly valuable asset in the field of audiology. Learn more about Dr. Woolliams.