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  • Christopher Wenzel, MD

Are Over-the-Counter hearing aids worth it?

“You get what you pay for” is the old motto that holds true even for hearing aids but it is not just the device that matters, it is the professional fitting and service the Audiologist offers that often makes the difference in value. Recently there have been several studies comparing OTC hearing aids (like those at Sam's Club and Costco) versus those fitted by an Audiologist. Common sense would say that an Audiologist, after receiving 4 years of training after college in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss, would add significant value to helping patients with hearing loss. In one study in 2017, this was clearly the case.

A six week Indiana University Study published in the American Journal of Audiology in March 2017 suggests that those who receive professional help with hearing aids and who are given professional instruction may have a better outcome. The study compared three groups of patient: 1) patients got a hearing aid including the services of an Audiologist, 2) an over-the-counter process choosing a preprogrammed device, and 3) a control group that got a professional fitting for a placebo hearing aid that had no amplification. There were 154 adults in the study ages 55-79 with mild to moderate hearing loss. After six weeks, researchers comparing the benefits including user satisfaction and use of hearing aids after six weeks. Significant benefit was found for both the audiologist group and the OTC group. However, the OTC group was less satisfied with the hearing aids and less likely to purchase them after the trial. 81% of patients said that they would purchase the hearing aids fitted by Audiologists after the trial, compared to only 55% of the OTC participants. Moreover, some of the same patients who did not want to purchase the OTC hearing aids changed their mind when they were allowed to work with an Audiologist for an additional four weeks to improve their hearing aid satisfaction. Hearing aids do usually make a significant difference for those with hearing loss, and professional training and instruction does make a difference for most patients.

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