Selecting a Hearing Aid

woman and doctor examine hearing aid

by David Smith, JCA Board Member

Selecting a hearing aid can be complicated and confusing, even with the help of a hearing professional. This and future blogs will help you understand your choices and how to make the best one for your hearing needs and for your pocketbook.

For many years, the only way to buy a decent hearing aid was to get a prescription hearing aid through and fitted by, a professional. However, since an FDA ruling on October 17, 2022, it is now possible to purchase a quality digital hearing aid without the need for a medical exam or a professional fitting. These over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are medical devices designed to treat mild to moderate hearing loss in adults and may be ideal for many people experiencing hearing loss. They are almost always cheaper than prescription hearing aids, although many of them have much the same technology for many users, and will work equally well.

So which way should you go? If you are willing to pay more to get the best hearing aid for you, or if your hearing loss is severe, a prescription hearing aid may be your best choice. On the other hand, if you have mild to moderate hearing loss, you should certainly consider OTC hearing aids. Either way, you’ll need to decide what kind of hearing aid to get, and eventually, what brand. Your choices are behind the ear (BTE), in-the-ear (ITE), and in the canal (ITC),

BTE hearing aids, the kind I chose for myself, are one of the largest types of modern hearing aid. They sit behind your ear, with a small tube connecting to a piece that sits inside the ear. While they are discreet looking they are not invisible. However, they have larger batteries that will last a full day without recharging, generally have more advanced features, and are easy to use.

While ITE hearing aids are not as obvious on the ear as BTC hearing aids, they require the help of a hearing health professional as they will need to be matched to the shape of your inner ear. They may not have the range or features of BTE hearing aids, but if looks are important to you, they may be your preferred choice.

ITC hearing aids sit inside your ear canal and are almost invisible from the outside. However, they lack the power or level of control that comes with other types of hearing aid. This type of hearing aid is generally best for those with moderate hearing loss or those who don’t need their hearing aid all the time and for those for whom it is important to hide the fact that they are wearing a hearing aid.

Once you’ve decided on the style you want, you’ll want to compare features and decide whether or not to get a prescription hearing aid or an OTC aid. In future blogs, I will go through the features available, help you decide whether to buy an OTC hearing aid or a prescription hearing aid, and point you to good sources for finding the right hearing aid, along with a discussion of brands and prices.