You Can Get an Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid this Fall

A white person's hand holding a hearing aid.


Key Takeaways

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is making a new class of hearing aid devices available over-the-counter (OTC) for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
  • Previously, hearing aids were only available by prescription.
  • Starting October 17, the hearing aids are available in retail stores and online for hundreds—instead of thousands —of dollars.
  • The FDA said that OTC hearing aids are not intended for children under the age of 18 or adults with severe hearing loss. 

Eligible Americans can now purchase hearing aids for a fraction of the original cost.

As of October 17, the White House announced hearing aids are stocked on store shelves around the country, including Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Best Buy, and Hy-Vee.

This is thanks to a rule finalized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in August which created a new hearing aid category: over-the-counter (OTC) devices. 

The long-awaited rule comes after COVID-related delays and a period of public comment. It officially permits the purchase of hearing aids in retail stores and online without a prescription or medical exam.

Why Make Hearing Aids OTC?

According to the National Institute of Deafness and Communications Disorders, about 28.8 million adults in the United States could benefit from using hearing aids, but fewer than 1 in 3 (or 30%) have ever used them.

Even fewer adults between the ages of 20 to 69 who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them (approximately 16%).

In most states, people who want hearing aids must have a hearing test and be fitted for the devices by a hearing specialist. These steps add to the cost and can be difficult for people who do not have access to hearing specialists where they live.

Hearing aids can cost anywhere between $4,000 to $5,000 per pair. Currently, the devices are not covered by basic Medicare plans. When insurance does cover the devices, it usually only covers part of the cost.

"Hearing loss is a critical public health issue that affects the ability of millions of Americans to effectively communicate in their daily social interactions," said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, MD, in a statement. "Establishing this new regulatory category will allow people with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss to have convenient access to an array of safe, effective and affordable hearing aids from their neighborhood store or online."

An executive order released by President Biden in July 2021 said OTC hearing aids were one example of how "a lack of competition in healthcare increases prices and reduces access to quality care."

The White House fact sheet also said that "hearing aids are so expensive that only 14% of the approximately 48 million Americans with hearing loss use them."

Who Can Get OTC Hearing Aids?

The OTC category for hearing aids is intended for adults age 18 and older who have mild to moderate hearing loss. This includes self-perceived hearing loss; a diagnosis is not necessary.

Hearing aids for severe hearing loss and for users younger than age 18 will still require an evaluation and prescription. 

Types of Hearing Loss

The FDA defines types of hearing loss as: 

  • Mild. A person with mild hearing loss may hear some speech sounds but soft sounds are hard to hear.
  • Moderate. A person with moderate hearing loss may hear almost no speech when another person is talking at a normal level.
  • Severe. A person with severe hearing loss will hear no speech when a person is talking at a normal level and only some loud sounds.
  • Profound. A person with a profound hearing loss will not hear any speech and only very loud sounds.

Will OTC Hearing Aids Be Safe?

To ensure patient safety, the FDA's rule places a maximum volume limit for OTC hearing aids to prevent injuries from the overamplification of sound. All OTC devices will require user-adjustable volume control.

The rule also includes certain device performance and design requirements, including those that apply to how quickly an OTC hearing aid can process, amplify, and relay sound. It would also limit how deeply in the ear the hearing aid can fit to help avoid ear injury.

William Shapiro, AUD, an audiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, told Verywell that he thinks OTC hearing aids “are a great idea if implemented appropriately and thoughtfully.”

William Shapiro, AUD

Stigma and cosmetic concerns are also reasons people don’t use hearing aids, not just cost.

— William Shapiro, AUD

While Shapiro said that OTC devices will allow many patients to access the devices, “stigma and cosmetic concerns are also reasons people don’t use hearing aids, not just cost."

To that end, Shapiro recommends that patients remain open to the idea of improving their hearing—rather than try to get by asking people to repeat what they’ve said, or turning up the volume on the TV.

“What may happen is that if a patient wears an OTC device and finds some benefit, they may see it as a starter hearing aid and then move to a more sophisticated one, if needed," said Shapiro.

Concerns About OTC Hearing Aids

One concern that hearing experts have is that people who purchase OTC hearing aids may have hearing loss for a reason that needs to be evaluated by a specialist.

Eric Mann, MD, PhD, the chief medical officer in the FDA office responsible for hearing aids, said in the agency's statement last fall that it's important that people know that "hearing loss could be a sign of an easily treatable problem like built-up earwax or a more serious problem like a benign tumor on the hearing nerve."

Therefore, Mann advised that people "see a doctor when things don’t feel right, when your hearing loss is progressing, or if you are having associated symptoms like dizziness, ear pain, or drainage from the ear canal."

Other OTC Hearing Devices

There are some products on the market that seem like OTC hearing aids but are not. One category is Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs.) These devices are intended to amplify sound during noisy situations, such as hunting, for people with normal hearing.

In the FDA's statement, Mann said that because "PSAPs are regulated as consumer electronics and not medical devices, they may be more variable in terms of product quality compared to hearing aids" and added that "the FDA does not regulate such PSAPs for safety and effectiveness" as they do for hearing aids.

Several companies, such as Bose (which makes headphones) currently sell what they call direct-to-consumer hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing loss. Some people may want to try these options and see if they are helpful.

Selena Briggs, MD, vice-chair of the department of otolaryngology at Medstar Health Washington Hospital Center in Washington DC, told Verywell that one advantage to OTC hearings aids is that because they are less expensive and will be more widely available, people with hearing difficulty might be more willing to try them.

“Right now, people are far more likely to get their vision corrected with glasses than to improve their hearing with hearing aids,” Briggs said. “I’d like to see no concern to wear either.” 

What This Means For You

The FDA has instituted a new rule that allows people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss to get hearing aids over-the-counter (OTC) at pharmacies and retail stores. However, if you are having trouble hearing, it's still important to talk to your doctor. Some causes of hearing loss are easily treatable, while others might need more treatment than OTC hearing aids.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Insitute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Quick Statistics About Hearing.

  2. John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Hearing Aid Revolution: Cheaper and Easier to Get.

By Fran Kritz
Fran Kritz is a freelance healthcare reporter with a focus on consumer health and health policy. She is a former staff writer for Forbes Magazine and U.S. News and World Report.