One of the most confusing things for people who are experiencing hearing loss is the myriad of hearing aids and devices available. There are so many hearing instruments to choose from, that’s why it’s best to seek professional advice from an audiologist.

~ Vanessa Ewert, AU.D., LIC.-A


From over-the-counter hearing aids to personal sound amplification products and of course prescription hearing aids, the variety is mind-boggling and this can be a problem if you do not know the difference between them all. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the various hearing instruments on the market and the differences between them.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids

OTC hearing aids are currently available only in the United States. They are a new kind of hearing instrument that you can purchase without a prescription, which is where the name over-the-counter hearing aids comes in.

Fully regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration they are available for individuals who are experiencing mild-to-moderate hearing loss. They are not suitable for individuals with more serious forms of hearing loss, for which an audiologist must be consulted and a prescription obtained.

Although they are very convenient, OTCs do have a number of downsides, mainly that they may not fit as well as hearing aids that have been fitted by an audiologist, but also that they may not be optimum for the level of hearing loss an individual is experiencing.

If you have hearing loss that you think may be more severe or if you want to ensure you get the best possible treatment for your hearing loss, then a prescription hearing aid is likely to be a better option.

Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAP)

Personal sound amplification products are electronic devices that you can wear on your person, and which will amplify the sounds around you. Although these devices can be useful for people with hearing loss, they are not, like hearing aids.

This means that, although they are good for amplifying the sound of things like the TV or the doorbell, they will not help you to hear more effectively overall and if a TV screen or a person is across the room for you, they may not help very much at all.

It is for this reason that PSAPs are not recommended as a treatment for hearing loss. In fact, using them could make any hearing loss worse in the long-term, and speaking to an audiologist is a far more sensible solution to any hearing loss issues.

Self-Fitting Hearing Aids

Self-fitting hearing aids are sound-amplifying devices that allow the wearer to measure their hearing loss and program their own hearing devices without any professional help. They are very rarely used because they are still not widely available, and frankly, they are not as good as prescription hearing aids which have been professionally selected and calibrated for the individual wearer. Studies have also shown that they are much more difficult for users to maintain and that finding the right settings can be a difficult thing for the individual to achieve.


Hearables is a loose term used to describe a wide range of products that can be used to enhance one’s hearing. These include things like headphones that enhance the sound of music you are listening to and wellness trackers that also act as hearing aids. They often include commonalities like smart connectivity, wellness tracking and noise-canceling settings, but they are not hearing aids in the medical sense and cannot generally be used to replace them.

Prescription Hearing Aids

Prescription hearing aids are the gold standard when it comes to hearing instruments. They are hearing aids that have been fitted by a professional audiologist and chosen to meet your specific needs as closely as possible. They will fit well and be calibrated to your exact level of hearing loss. They are the most highly recommended of all hearing instruments.

Hopefully, now you know a little bit more about hearing instruments and their differences you can choose the most appropriate product for your level of hearing loss and get the most out of your device.

Get Expert Help with Your Hearing

If you are experiencing hearing loss and you would like to know more about your options when it comes to hearing instruments, do not hesitate to get in touch with an audiologist here at the Bluegrass Hearing Clinic. You can call us at (866) 979-5579. We’re here to help.

Tags: otc hearing aids, over-the-counter hearing aids