You have undoubtedly heard that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the sale of hearing aids over the counter (OTC) and without a prescription—that’s welcome news for the 54 million Americans over age 12 with self-perceived mild-to-moderate hearing difficulty.

Despite the availability of prescription hearing aids, only about 20% of people with hearing loss use them. Why? They may lack access to providers or don’t admit to needing them…or it may be because prescription hearing aids are expensive and often not covered by insurance and Medicare. Good news: UnitedHealthcare is partnering with AARP to offer benefits for both OTC and traditional prescription hearing aids. What you should know before you buy OTC hearing aids…

Who can benefit from them? OTC hearing aids are meant for adults over age 18 with mild-to-moderate hearing difficulty. They are not suitable for people with severe to profound hearing loss, which needs to be managed by an audiologist—a hearing specialist who can offer strategies and adaptations to help you hear and communicate better with prescribed technology. Before buying OTC hearing aids, it can be helpful to have your hearing assessed by an audiologist or do an auditory hearing test through your smartphone using an app such as Mimi Hearing Test or SonicCloud.

Nonprescription hearing aids are particularly suited to tech-savvy people in their mid-50s who are experiencing noise-induced hearing loss, which is on the rise due to the widespread use of earbuds and the high noise levels at concerts and in restaurants. OTC hearing aids are worn discreetly behind or inside the ear, just like prescription aids. Bonus: If the hearing aids you buy can be paired with your smartphone, you also can listen to music and answer calls through them.

Where should you buy them? OTC aids are available at pharmacies…big-box stores such as Costco and BJ’s…Best Buy and other electronics stores…and online from companies like Bose. Many are comparable in quality to traditional entry-level prescription hearing aids that cost much more. Since OTC hearing aids are new to the marketplace, educate yourself before making a purchase.

How much do they cost? Prices for OTC hearing aids range from $200 to $1,600 per pair—versus as much as $7,000 for prescription devices. Buyer beware: Be sure the manufacturer offers a 30-day trial period—that gives you enough time to see if you can adjust to using the aids—and allows returns.

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