Why Can’t I Buy Hearing Aids Over-the-Counter?

Recently the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened an expert committee to study the accessibility and affordability of hearing health care for adults in the United States. The resulting report, Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability, made a recommendation to allow less expensive hearing aids sold over-the-counter. Great idea, right?


On the surface, that may seem like a good idea, but it is a more complicated issue than what you might think.  Yes, such devices may be a solution for some people.  However, the correction of hearing loss has to start with an accurate diagnosis of the type of hearing loss and underlying medical issue; and then move to the prescription.  This requires the diagnostic skill that only an audiologist or medical doctor can provide.  Just as an optometrist of ophthalmologist rules out medical problems before prescribing reading glasses, people with hearing loss should be seeing a medical professional, not a non-medical commercial dispenser prior to getting hearing aids.  This takes the skills of an audiologist who has the post-graduate academic training, clinical expertise and technology to accurately make the accurate adjustments.


Hearing loss is a vastly different medical condition than loss of vision. It is obvious when you can’t see an object or when your sight is blurry. When you have trouble reading the newspaper, you may decide to try a pair of cheap reading glasses at the drug store, which may solve your problem. But how do you know when you can’t hear a sound as loud as you should? It is more than a family member telling you to turn the TV down. Hearing is as unique as your fingerprint. It is not a “one size fits all” treatment because each individual perceives sounds based on their own personal acoustics.


Low cost, over-the-counter hearing aids may not work “as advertised.” The consumer may purchase a hearing aid that is ineffective, still leaving the patient at risk of dementia and other serious medical problems. That is because the adjustment and fitting of hearing aids must take into account the acoustics of the patient’s own ear canal as well as how their brain perceives loudness across the whole spectrum of the sounds of life.  Only a qualified and board-certified Doctor of Audiology has the clinical training and experience to perform these adjustments for an accurate fit. Otherwise, a patient might buy a hearing aid that is inappropriately prescribed and fitted and would not be satisfied with the performance.  In that case, they will quit using them and they have wasted their investment.


The NC Academy of Audiology has efforts to improve the standards of hearing health care in the state.  Current laws allow people with high school education to dispense hearing aids, but their lobbying organization for many years has been trying to enable their ability to do more medically related procedures.


Whoever you choose to treat your hearing loss, please see a true Doctor of Audiology in Raleigh. When you make your appointment, ask them if they perform Real Ear Measurements. If they do not, find a different health care provider.