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Hear ye! How to choose a hearing aid

A woman with a hearing aid smiles as she video chats with a man and child.

Millions of Americans have hearing loss. If you’re one of them, a hearing aid may be an option. Discover a few helpful hints for making a hearing aid purchase.

Life is sweeter when you can hear well. That's why, if you're among the millions of Americans with hearing loss, you might be considering purchasing hearing aids. These medical devices amplify sounds, which may help you hear and communicate with loved ones and friends. But with so many options, where should you start?

Prescription or over-the-counter?

One factor to consider is the severity of your hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders (NIDCD). If it's mild to moderate, an over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid may be an option.

You can buy OTC hearing aids online and in drug stores—no hearing exam is required. They may cost less than prescription hearing aids, but you must fit and tune them yourself.

OTC hearing aids are only for adults who think they have mild to moderate hearing loss. The American Academy of Audiology says you might have this degree of hearing loss if you answer yes to the following:

  • Are you able to hear easily in quiet, one-on-one situations?
  • Are there a few difficult listening situations where you think you would want to wear the OTC hearing aids as opposed to feeling like you would need it in most communication situations?
  • Does turning up your phone or TV just slightly help you hear better (as opposed to needing to use them so loudly that it bothers others)?

If you have more severe hearing loss, you may need a prescription hearing aid. You might have severe hearing loss if you have trouble hearing even loud sounds or holding conversations in noisy places, like crowded restaurants.

Even though you're not required to see a doctor or get a hearing test to buy an OTC hearing aid, doing so can be beneficial. A doctor can help you find the cause of your hearing problems and decide if an OTC hearing aid would be right for you. Depending on the cause of your hearing loss, they may be able to offer treatments that can help.

A selection of styles

When it comes to hearing aids, prescription vs. OTC isn't the only choice to make. Hearing aids come in several styles, which vary by size and visibility, including:

Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids rest behind the ear and connect to either an earmold or a thin plastic tube inside the ear (open-fit BTE hearing aids). Some people say their voice sounds less muffled with open-fit hearing aids, which do not block the ear canal. People of all ages can use BTE hearing aids for mild to profound hearing loss.

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fit completely inside the outer ear. Some have circuitry that helps you hear over a phone. ITE hearing aids are for people with mild to severe hearing loss.

Canal aids fit into the ear canal, and some are almost impossible to see. Canal aids are usually recommended for adults with mild to moderately severe hearing loss.

Other factors to consider when purchasing hearing aids include:

  • Ease of use. The best hearing aid may be the one you'll wear regularly.
  • Features. For instance, some hearing aids let you adjust the volume and settings with a smartphone app.
  • Cost. Hearing aids can cost from hundreds to several thousand dollars.
  • Test periods. Is there a trial period in case the hearing aids don't help you?

You can discuss these factors with a hearing professional as well as explore consumer reviews of hearing aids.

Getting used to new sounds

At first, your hearing aids may feel strange, and your voice may sound too loud in your head. Most people adjust to using hearing aids with time and regular use. But check with an audiologist if you continue to feel uncomfortable or if you hear feedback (a whistling sound), loud background sounds or buzzing noises.

Learn how to protect your hearing in our Ears health topic center.


Reviewed 11/8/2022

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The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.