Is an over-the-counter hearing aid right for you?

Over-the-counter hearing aids are creating a buzz. But experts want users to hear the right message when it comes to choosing a product. 

The once prescription-only medical device is now on the open shelves at your local pharmacy among the vitamins, pain relievers and reading glasses. 

Luis Solano is a specialty pharmacy manager at Walgreens.

“They probably assume it’s prescription only or have to go see a doctor,” he said.

Not any longer. Over-the-counter hearing aids go for $799 at Walgreens.

“The over-the-counter option gives accessibility to more patients that may want to try something before going to a hearing doctor or just to see what it’s like for them,” Solano said.

The Bluetooth devices — that feature a tiny ear bud design similar to more expensive models — are also available online. 

“Someone who has mild to moderate hearing loss would be a perfect candidate,” Solano said. “Someone who needs a little more attention probably not.”

Audiologist Kristen Conners has been fitting patients with hearing aids for 30 years.

“Over the counter hearing aids are designed more for mild hearing loss where prescription hearing aids are designed for mild to profound hearing loss,” she said.

She says prescription options — which range from $800 to $5,000 — function differently.

“In general those hearing aids have a much faster processor so when they get into a restaurant setting, when they are at church or at home watching tv, they get a much better sound quality with them,” Conners said.

While this over-the-counter version comes with access to a virtual support line to help users program the product,

Hearing loss patient Mike Lekas opted for a more personalized approach. 

“I think I’d rather have the professional help me with my hearing,” he said. “I know it’s more expensive but at a certain point I think it’s worth it.”

“The education, knowing what type of hearing loss you have, having somebody at least look in your ear canal to make sure there is nothing in there no blockage or anything like that. And that it is a hearing loss appropriate for hearing aids whether it is over-the-counter or regular prescription hearing aids,” Conners said.

Walgreens offers a payment plan or patients can use healthcare savings or flexible spending accounts to help cover the cost of the over the counter hearing aids. Prescription models may be covered by insurance.

Chicago News