Buying hearing aids is easy. In fact, there are several options to purchase hearing aids.
The most common option for purchasing hearing aids is at a hearing aid specialist. This can include an audiologist or a hearing aid dispenser.
An audiologist is a trained professional who measures hearing and can fit hearing aids. This person has at least a Master’s degree in addition to specialized training in hearing loss. Many now have an AuD (doctorate) degree and even a Ph.D.
Read more: Is an audiologist a doctor?
In contrast, a hearing aid dispenser is someone authorized by state law to measure hearing, fit and sell hearing aids. Credentials vary by state. Typically they involve working as an apprentice to a certified dispenser and passing a test about hearing aids.
To find out if an audiologist or hearing aid dispenser is licensed, check with your local Better Business Bureau, consumer protection agency, State Attorney General’s office, or the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Some states don’t require any formal training or licensure for hearing aid specialists. Do your due diligence.
The advantage of going to a hearing professional is that this person can use his/her expertise to help you find the right hearing aid. They can also help with programming, which is important for many modern hearing aids to work properly.
Many audiologists work in private practice, hospitals/healthcare centers, or at places like Costco. Other factors to consider when you look for someone are convenience and availability.
By 2020, consumers in the United States should have access to OTC hearing aids, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). A federal law passed in 2017 mandated for this change, directing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to relax barriers for people buying a hearing aid.
However, OTC hearing aids won’t be for everyone. The availability will depend on what level hearing loss you have, and hearing aids for children will not be available over-the-counter.
“… they’re designed for people with only mild to moderate hearing loss,” according to the AARP. “Treating more severe loss requires careful adjustments and monitoring.”
With OTC hearing aids, there’s a concern that people might simply gravitate towards low prices and not the right hearing aid. A hearing professional quoted in the AARP article urges patients to first see an audiologist to discuss strategies for improving their hearing. This could include starting with an OTC product.
“You put glasses on and the world’s clear and that’s great. With hearing, you don’t know what you’re missing,” says Sarah Sydlowski, audiologist director of the Cleveland Clinic Hearing Implant Program, in the AARP article.
When it comes to OTC hearing aids, the main message is buyer beware. Check the return policy. Understand the benefits and limitations of the aid.
You might notice that some pharmacies and stores such as Walmart sell some “aids.” These are not hearing aids, but are personal sound amplification products (PSAPs). They are sometimes sold as “hunting aids,” and marketed to hunters.
These devices are cheaper, but the FDA requires that these products are not marketed as devices to improve impaired hearing. Effectiveness varies depending on the product, so it’s important to consult with a hearing professional.
You can find hearing aids for sale online, however, this can be a risky purchase. Often, hearing aids need to be programmed, which require close work with an audiologist or hearing care professional. Also, when you make the purchase through an audiologist, you can usually get a loaner aid if yours breaks and needs to be sent out for repair.
However, proponents of ordering hearing aids online say that the process cuts out the middleman and the extra costs that come with retailers or audiologists.
The “old fashioned” way of purchasing hearing aids is still recommended by the American Academy of Audiology. The president of the American Academy of Audiology is quoted in a New York Times article as saying the high prices for hearing aids include research and development, and audiologists at private clinics provide customized service. This means real ear measurements and repeated follow-up service.
“They’re going to understand your hearing loss better than a website,” she says in the article.
The right hearing aid is dependent on several factors, including the type and severity of your hearing loss, lifestyle, and manual dexterity. There are many types of hearing aids with different power levels and features, and that doesn’t even include personal preferences.
To help guide you in this process, the FDA suggests some questions for you to ask a hearing healthcare professional before you buy a hearing aid:
Rechargeable batteries are one of the most-wanted features in new hearing aids. It eliminates the need to change tiny batteries, with new technology that you can charge every night while you sleep. Nearly 53 percent of people who wear hearing aids said that rechargeable batteries were one of the most important features, according to a survey by Consumer Reports.
Nearly 43 percent of hearing aids users say that smartphone capabilities or tinnitus masking is important for their hearing technology. Nearly 37 percent say wireless connectivity is also an important feature. This allows hearing aid users to connect to cell phones and stream audio, phone calls, podcasts and more.
Read more: Connecting my hearing aids to technology
Forty-one percent of consumers said that the option of multiple program settings were one of the most important features. Forty percent mentioned advanced microphone features and 42 percent said automatic noise level adjustment was most important.
Other key features according to hearing aid experts include telecoil, directional microphone, feedback suppression, and digital noise reduction. Most newer aids have low-battery indicator sounds, wax guards to prevent buildup, automatic and manual volume control, and a memory of your listening preferences, along with direct audio input, CR says.
An audiologist has the most know-how and experience to give you the best recommendation.
The answer to this question is subjective, as there are so many variables. It really depends on the specific person. Your audiologist will try their best to select the right one for your hearing needs and personal preferences.
There is no “best” hearing aid. There are, however, common hearing aid brands that stand for high quality. Based on exclusive survey data from 17,626 Consumer Reports members, CR has newly updated hearing aid brand ratings, which cover 16 companies.
Prices aside, Oticon, Phonak, and Widex got high marks for fit and comfort. According to Consumer Reports, the top five brands overall are Costco/Kirkland, Signia, Oticon, Phonak, and Widex.
Just like with hearing aid ratings, reviews must be taken with a grain of salt. Everyone is different; everyone’s particular hearing needs vary. This is another reason why audiologists are useful, as they have the professional experience to back up their recommendations. For example, they’ll know from their other patients if one hearing aid brand tends to be more reliable than another.
This website, Hearing Tracker, has some reviews, but have the same cautionary messages.
Unfortunately, hearing aids are expensive. Prices range depending on form, power levels, and features. Hearing aids can be as low as $530 and as high as $3,000. Anything lower than $300 is likely not a hearing aid but a PSAP.
When you buy a hearing aid, you’re really buying a package. Warranties, check-ups, services, and tunings are usually part of the purchase. Hearing aids are also much more powerful than they used to be, and that comes with a cost.
Read more: Ask Anna: Why are hearing aids expensive?
Unfortunately, insurance providers don’t always cover the cost of hearing aids. However, it’s important to look at your specific insurance options and plan.
The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) says on its website that families of children enrolled in early intervention may be eligible to receive funding through that program. State early intervention programs may allow a family to qualify for hearing aids at no cost if insurance doesn’t cover it or if you don’t have insurance. Some states purchase aids for children, while some states have mandates for health insurance plans to cover part of the cost. Check your insurance policy before purchasing.
Many local children’s hospitals have audiology departments that can provide assistance or low-interest payment plans.
Check with your insurer to see what’s offered. If the full cost of aids isn’t covered, hearing tests and evaluations may be. AG Bell has a list of resources detailing the hearing aid related insurance mandates on a state-by-state basis.
Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids, but you can get hearing tests and other services. Call 1-800-MEDICARE if you have questions.
Federal and state governments determine coverage for hearing aids. This means coverage can vary depending on your location. However, Medicaid often does cover hearing aids for adults. Children in need are usually covered under medicaid.
If you have a disability or have a low income, you may qualify. Go to Medicaid’s website to find out more.
If you are a U.S. veteran, you may be eligible for hearing aids. To receive hearing aids through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’, you have to register. Their website has more information.
Some organizations offer financial assistance for hearing aids.
This site has a comprehensive list. Your audiologist may also be able to recommend sources of funding in your community.
Overall, hearing aids are a big purchase, but the technology can be life changing. Hearing sounds and being to hold conversations again can open up your life and make it more enjoyable. Research shows it can also help prevent depression and other health issues such as Alzheimer’s disease.
If you’re just starting the process of purchasing hearing aids, remember that you’re not alone. Over 5% of the world’s population – or 466 million people – has disabling hearing loss, and approximately one third of people over 65 years of age are affected by disabling hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization.
Read more: Why treat age related hearing loss?
Hearing aids are no longer bulky, beige bananas of your grandmother’s era. They are now modern, sleek devices – and some models are nearly invisible! Today’s technology offers a wide variety of styles and technology that diminish the stigmas around wearing hearing aids and allow you to be more connected to the world around you.
To purchase a hearing aid, visit your audiologist or find a hearing care professional near you.