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OTC Hearing Aids & the Dangers of Over the Counter Hearing Aids

Paul Harrison Hearing Aid UK Founder & Audiologist
Written By:
Paul Harrison

Audiology Expert

Updated: 11th March 2024
Over the Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids UK

Over the Counter Hearing Aids

Are OTC hearing aids right for you?

What are over-the-counter hearing aids?

Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are hearing devices that can be purchased without a prescription from a healthcare provider. These devices are intended to help individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss and are typically less expensive and less complex than prescription hearing aids.

Mail order hearing aids have been around for decades and have always been quite controversial.  Previously these were mainly sold via small adverts at the back of magazines and newspapers but have moved to sell through pop-up mail order websites. 

Though they are commonly marketed as hearing aids, most are in fact just sophisticated amplifiers. They are delivered pre-programmed and ready to use.  All you do is put them in and switch them on.

Consumers believe that over-the-counter hearing aids are one possible way of avoiding the expense – but are they worth it?  Below we go through some facts about these devices, so you can make a more educated decision about over-the-counter hearing aids and whether they are right for you.


The limitations of OTC hearing aids

Over-the-counter hearing aids are not designed to help people with severe or complex hearing losses and are not for people who find background noise or social situations challenging. They are predominantly used to assist those with simple hearing losses in hearing in a quiet environment. Over the counter hearing aids are also marketing and known as:


  • Assisted Listening Devices / ALD
  • Personal Sound Amplification Products / PSAP
  • Off the Shelf hearing aids
  • Hearables 


Over the Counter Hearing Aid Prices

So, what do the over-the-counter hearing aids cost?  With so many OTC hearing aids out there in today’s market, a lot of consumers believe they are a more affordable option when compared to private audiologists.  To give you an idea, on average these hearing aids range from £99 to £500 per device. 

These affordable over-the-counter hearing aids are trying to make hearing aids more accessible - catering for low level hearing loss to consumers who maybe can't afford them.  Whilst, the idea is perhaps exciting for some, it is still a rather controversial one within the audiology industry. 


 Why are OTC hearing aids controversial?

When you see beyond the cost – over the counter hearing aids come with a plethora of disadvantages.  There is a very real potential for damage to consumer's ears from over-amplification from these devices as they are not set to your hearing loss and therefore it doesn't know where to limit the volume.

Another concern is when people purchase over-the-counter hearing aids and don’t find them successful – they could lose faith in hearing aids completely. It often puts people off for years as they think that hearing aids don't work for them. This could potentially bring on social, mental and health problems due to the lack of professional diagnosis, the right treatment and aftercare.


So, what are the over-the-counter hearing aid options?

Online hearing aid suppliers that sell over the counter hearing aids have a range of devices to choose from such as the ITE and BTE styles you might be familiar with.  However, the range available is limited in comparison to hearing aids from a private audiologist.


Over the counter hearing aid brands 

There are a few mail-order hearing aid companies now, but the most popular of them seem to be Lively, Eargo, MDHearingAid, and Audicus.  However, we are unsure how accessible these products are in the UK.  In regards to over the counter hearing aids with Bluetooth, all these brands tick this box on some level and can, in some cases, be compatible with your phone.


OTC Hearing Aid Example 

Do over-the-counter hearing aids work?

The Truth & Dangers of OTC Hearing Aids


Over the Counter Hearing Aids Reviews from our Audiologists

Are over-the-counter hearing aids effective?  Compared to NHS hearing aids or private hearing aids, which are programmed and fitted by a professional with your hearing loss needs in mind - over the counter hearing aids only offer what the packaging says. 

The idea is that you browse online, see which hearing aid is the right 'fit' for you, add to cart and then a few days later your devices are delivered to you.


What technology is included in over-the-counter hearing aids?

Over-the-counter hearing aids are marketed to consumers as pre-programmed devices that are compatible with mild to moderate hearing losses.  An example of this would be a hearing loss that is caused by aging. 

This hearing loss is generally when you find hearing high-frequency sounds more challenging than lower frequencies.  Over-the-counter hearing aid technology is limited and only offers basic amplification of said high frequency sounds.


Over the Counter Hearing Aid Devices - It's all down to the consumer’s choice

When today's consumers decide to purchase an over-the-counter hearing aid online - the selection process is solely in their hands.  This means there will be no help from a qualified audiologist who would naturally diagnose and identify their hearing loss level and then assist and support them in their decision-making process. 

A process that successfully navigates the right hearing aid with the most beneficial features for them - ensuring that they will always hear at their best.

Another worrying thought is that there is no hearing test required, so what exactly is the best way to judge the right hearing aid?  If you do have audiogram results, who will interpret these correctly?  Arguably, we believe that buying an over-the-counter hearing aid is similar to purchasing heart medication from another country without a prescription.  It’s a huge gamble and one you realistically wouldn’t think about doing.


You might not even need hearing aids!

Hearing loss can be a symptom of other health issues such as kidney disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Purchasing and wearing over-the-counter hearing aids and amplifying sounds when you don't have hearing loss is dangerous.  If you are thinking about buying these hearing aids and may have underlining health issues, we advise that you seek medical help before considering purchasing.


Why are off-the-counter hearing aids so cheap?

A lot of people wonder why OTC hearing aids are so inexpensive. It's a simple answer that most people with an age-related hearing loss will have worked out themselves by now. "You get what you pay for."

You are buying it from an online supplier without the appropriate programming and adjustments hearing loss requires and needs. 


Are there any hidden costs to over-the-counter hearing aids?

It all depends on what company you go with, as there could potentially be various costs to pay as well as the device price itself.  This could be hearing aid warranty (if not included), repairs, batteries and so on.  Aftercare will also have to be sourced and paid for by yourself.

Something else worth mentioning is that if the hearing aid supplier you bought your hearing aids from cannot provide aftercare - you will have to find someone who can.  In reality, most private audiologists will not have the access or means to carry out any hearing healthcare service with over-the-counter hearing aids. 

They can only support and look after patients who haven't bought hearing aids from them, but currently have hearing aids from a manufacturer they know and work with.


Main Disadvantages of OTC Hearing Aids


The cons of over the counter hearing aids, in brief

Looking at over the counter hearing aids as a generalisation, here is what we believe to be the main cons of this type of hearing aid.


  1. No fine-tuning:  There is no personalisation of features to cater to your unique hearing loss as well as no bespoke fitting.  It's really a 'one size fits all' product and an 'every hearing loss is the same' approach.
  2. No support of aftercare:  Most mail-order hearing aid companies offer no aftercare or support services after you have purchased your devices.  You don't benefit from the level of support you get from an audiologist to guide you on your hearing loss journey and your future hearing needs.
  3. Lack of quality:  Over the counter hearing aids do naturally lack the quality of sound, technology and the device casing itself.  They just amplify sounds rather than enhance your listening experience.
  4. No warranty:  OTC hearing aids don't include warranty or insurance, if anything was to happen with your devices.  Although this is improving over time, we are unsure of the customer service or repair process.


Over The Counter Hearing Aids

 Over the counter digital hearing aids

What if over-the-counter hearing aids don't work for me?


OTC hearing aids are a risk

This is always a common worry that consumers have when they are researching over-the-counter hearing aids.  This is a natural thought as ordering something online is often not what you expect when it arrives. 

There is a huge element of risk involved in such a purchase.  However, in some cases, there might be a 30 day returns policy if the hearing aid is not right for you.


What do we honestly think about over-the-counter hearing aids?

In the past when patients have been looking for the best over the counter hearing aids and then ask us "are over the counter hearing aids any good?" - we always answer honestly.  This means advising those who are thinking about purchasing an over-the-counter hearing aid to think again. 

Yes, you might get some simple amplification, but inferior products like these generally don't assist your hearing.  There is also a genuine risk that it could do more damage than good to your hearing long term.

We understand that budget is a huge factor in getting a hearing aid.  As independent private audiologists ourselves we are proud to offer exceptional hearing healthcare service, a great scope of hearing aid choices from the best manufacturers and highest level of technology. 

We are also transparent about our prices and offer some of the lowest in the UK.  That being said, when budget is restricted, we would rather recommend customers go to the NHS for their hearing healthcare than purchase OTC hearing aids.


Changing attitudes

On the other hand, people would argue that over-the-counter hearing aids have normalised and popularised hearing aids.  Which we hope will go in some way to changing negative attitudes towards them.  As the dated hearing solution design and concept make way to a more modern way of design, lifestyle and audiology – it has the potential to inspire people to seek an earlier diagnosis. 


In conclusion

It's important to remember that there are some potential drawbacks to using OTC hearing aids. They may not be as effective as prescription hearing aids in addressing more severe or complex hearing loss, and they may not be tailored to the individual's specific hearing needs. In addition, OTC hearing aids may not include some of the advanced features and technologies found in prescription hearing aids, such as noise reduction or wireless connectivity.

If you are considering using an OTC hearing aid, it is important to carefully research the available options and consider your specific hearing needs. It may be helpful to consult with a hearing healthcare professional or a trusted healthcare provider to determine the best solution for your hearing loss.

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Need more information on and support with OTC hearing aids?

Please call us free on 0800 567 7621 or for any additional advice and support on OTC hearing aids.  We can assist you in your hearing healthcare going forward and put you in touch with the right audiologist local to you.

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This article was written by Paul Harrison - Audiology Expert

Meet Paul Harrison, Audiology Expert

Audiology expert at Hearing Aid UK, with over 20 years of audiology experience and a member of the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists Council (BSHAA) between 2015 - 2020.

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