It can be overwhelming shopping for hearing aids these days. Not only are there hundreds of models to choose from, but a variety of different technologies, styles and brands. Because hearing aids aren't sold in stores like eyeglasses, you may not have the opportunity to compare products side by side.
Before you start thinking about hearing aid types and features, start by considering the different ways to buy hearing devices. It could mean the difference between finding a device you’ll wear all day long, and something that will gather dust in your bedside table drawer.
Personal Sound Amplifier Products (PSAPs)
Type in ‘hearing aids’ on your favorite online shopping site and you’ll be faced with a whole host of PSAPs. People with normal hearing are the stated target audience of a PSAP. Consumers are typically sold it as a technique to amplify quiet noises so that they may be heard more clearly. Although they are much less expensive than regular hearing aids, according to the Food and Drug Administration, PSAPs are not intended to treat hearing loss.
Are they worth it?
In a nutshell, no.
PSAPs aren't FDA-approved medical devices, and they can't be used to treat anything, even hearing loss. PSAPs are merely recreational devices designed to benefit persons who can already hear as normal, but this doesn't stop them from being used by those with hearing loss, who would be better served by professional help.
Wearing a pair of reading glasses to treat near and far-sighted vision impairment is analogous to using a PSAP to treat hearing loss. Hearing aids that have been professionally fitted, on the other hand, are FDA-regulated medical devices that can effectively treat hearing loss.
Online / Direct-to-consumer (DTC) hearing aids
Online hearing aids are offered by businesses solely interested in selling you a product. Some of these businesses ask you to send in an audiogram, while others don’t require one at all. Many consumers who purchase these hearing aids online rather than visiting a local hearing care specialist are hoping for a quick fix to their hearing problems and are lured in by the lower prices or fancy websites.
Are they worth it?
The advantages of purchasing hearing aids online are comparable to those of purchasing anything else online:
You can shop from the comfort of your own home.
You can look into product reviews.
Without picking up the phone or visiting an office, you can place an order and have it delivered to your front door.
These devices, however, are not subject to the same regulations as prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.
They also have a lower likelihood of resulting in client satisfaction. A recent survey asked 126 people to compare 28 online hearing aids with the most popular prescription hearing aid given by the National Health Service in the United Kingdom (NHS). The majority of the devices scored lower than the NHS device. They found that DTC devices were not as customizable, resulting in uncomfortably loud noises or poor sound quality. While a DTC hearing aid may be preferable to no hearing aid, prescription hearing aids may provide more meaningful treatment.
In addition, some DTC hearing aid buyers have found themselves with invalid warranties after spending thousands of dollars.
Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids (available soon)
Congress directed the FDA in 2017 to develop rules and criteria that manufacturers might use to begin selling some hearing aids over-the-counter (OTC) without the need for support from a hearing professional. Unlike PSAPs, these will be legally classified as hearing aids and targeted at people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Be wary about hearing devices that purport to be "FDA cleared" or "FDA registered ."It's essential to remember that there are currently no OTC hearing aids available yet. Four hearing aid companies have recently had to settle with the State of Connecticut over inaccurate claims they were “FDA approved”.
With the first OTC hearing aids expected later this year, these devices are expected to be less expensive than custom-fitted hearing aids while maintaining a similar quality.
Are they worth it?
Time will tell.
Assuming they work as intended, OTC hearing devices might be an excellent entry-level hearing aid for those with untreated mild or moderate hearing loss. It is hoped that lowering the barrier to hearing treatment may encourage those previously unwilling to use hearing devices to do so more frequently.
Prescription/Professionally-fitted hearing aids
These hearing aids are fitted by hearing professionals who often work in their private clinics, like our audiologists at Silicon Valley Hearing. They come in various pricing ranges and are fitted by a hearing professional in a hearing office.
The best hearing professionals will use Real Ear Measurements when fitting your hearing aid. This involves inserting a tiny probe into your outer ear while wearing your hearing aid and comparing the sounds from that microphone against the required hearing prescription of the patient.
Are they worth it?
Every hearing loss and hearing need is unique, just as every person is. Hearing aids are devices that must be prescribed and fitted to each patient's exact hearing loss and ear canal shape. It's always a good idea to work with an experienced Audiologist who follows industry best practices to ensure you obtain a device that's tailored to your specific needs and lifestyle. These educated professionals have the experience and equipment to accurately diagnose and quantify your degree of hearing loss. They then prescribe and provide a unique solution to you and provide continuous support and care.
Purchasing hearing aids from a specialist, such as Dr. Marni Novick of Silicon Valley Hearing in Los Gatos, offers a better listening experience with technology suited for you and establishes a solid foundation for future adjustments and follow-up treatment.