Are Cheap Hearing Aids Worth It?

When you hear the word “cheap” you know it can either mean “inexpensive/affordable” or it can mean “poor in quality.” Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two. In the case of hearing aids, you almost always get what you pay for. That is not to say purchasing the top-of-the-line, most expensive choice is a must, but cheap hearing aids do not offer the same options or features as those available for purchase from an experienced hearing healthcare professional.

Some cheap hearing aids are nothing more than personal sound amplification devices (PSAP) while others are actual hearing aids that you can buy over-the-counter (OTC). The main difference that sets a cheap hearing aid apart is that commonly they are purchased without the assistance of a hearing healthcare professional. A cheap hearing aid is either a PSAP or OTC hearing aid that is less than $1,000 and available for purchase either online or off the shelf at a retail store.

The Deal With Cheap Hearing Aids

Hearing aids should provide more than simple sound amplification. They should help you hear the things that are important to you and attempt to provide an experience similar to natural hearing. As hearing aid technology increases and grows, features such as directionality, streaming, BlueTooth connectivity, Artificial Intelligence, smartphone apps, accessories, and rechargeable batteries work together to provide a high end hearing experience. Cheap hearing aids, on the other hand, focus solely on price at the expense of the features listed above. While the “pro” of a cheap hearing aid is the cost, here are 10 of the cons which may lead you to look elsewhere.

  1. They simply make sound louder

Many cheap OTC hearing aids and PSAPs do nothing more than amplify every sound in your environment louder. They do not separate the sounds nor do they help you to focus on and hear voices over ambient noises. The features that you find in higher quality hearing aids, such as tinnitus therapy, connectivity, directionality, hands-free phone calling, smartphone apps, etc. do not exist in cheap hearing aids.

  1. Made from inferior materials

Inferior quality and materials will result in a shorter product lifetime, poor battery duration and increased likelihood of damage by moisture and earwax.

  1. Useless in a noisy room

In a noisy room, a good pair of hearing aids will help you to focus on specific things, such as the voices of your friends, television volume, or the music being played. When you are experiencing hearing loss, it can be really frustrating to have every noise enter your ears at the same time. Unfortunately, a cheap pair of hearing aids will do just that.

  1. They are not aesthetically pleasing

If you want your hearing aid to be discreet, skin colored, or just aesthetically attractive, you will not find any of these qualities in cheap hearing aids.

  1. Poor sound quality

Most good hearing aids are equipped with noise reduction features as well as stereo quality sound. You will not find these features in cheap hearing aids where the focus is amplifying sound regardless of its quality.

  1. Do not account for all hearing loss

Cheap hearing aids often do not have the power or the features to account for severe or profound hearing loss. Those that do, however, usually are not good for people with moderate to mild hearing loss as they raise the volume of the sound too high. Many of today’s high quality hearing aids can account for multiple levels of hearing loss and can grow with you as your hearing loss changes.

  1. Lack of customization

Hearing aids can be customized to an individual wearer in a variety of ways. The settings can be customized to your hearing loss, the ear mold can be fitted to your ear, and, with AI hearing aids, they can even learn how your particular hearing works. With cheap hearing aids, these customization options are not present.

  1. Uncomfortable and poorly fit

The combination of poor quality materials and no customization usually leaves you with an uncomfortable pair of hearing aids that also fit your ear poorly. One of the best things about having an audiologist walk with you through the process is that they can help you find the most comfortable fit available while also providing the features you need.

  1. Will cost more in the long run

Even if the hearing device you purchase costs thousands less than what an audiologist would suggest, selecting an inexpensive product on your own could cost you more in the long run both financially and for your hearing. If you purchase the wrong device, it could easily damage your hearing even more.  In addition, you may find you need to re-purchase devices frequently.  Alternatively, if you work with an audiologist, it is possible your first device will last for many years.

  1. Feedback

One of the biggest annoyances with hearing aids is when your device produces feedback. Cheaper hearing aids, just like cheap concert speakers, do not have the features in place to keep that feedback out of your ears.

Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

On October 20, 2021 the FDA issued their “draft guidance” concerning Over-The-Counter (OTC) hearing aids. This draft guidance, if finalized, will allow hearing aids to be sold directly to consumers without a medical exam or fitting. This legislation is expected to go into effect by the end of 2022.

The proposed rule would apply to anyone over the age of 18 that has perceived mild to moderate hearing loss. Hearing aids for children would still require an exam, fitting, and prescription from an audiologist. Some of the key points of the draft include:

  • State regulations will change to reflect the federal law
  • OTC hearing aids can be called “hearing aids” and will be sold in retail stores and online rather than just doctors’ offices and specialty retail stores
  • OTC hearing aids will be cheaper than those currently being sold
  • OTC hearing aids will have additional limits to prevent injuries from volume being set too high and requirements in terms of device performance and design

Currently, there are two designations for hearing devices: PSAPs and hearing aids. According to the FDA, hearing aids are intended to aid a person with or compensate for hearing impairment. PSAPs, on the other hand, are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, mitigate, or prevent disease and are not intended to affect the structure or function of the body. Basically, hearing aids had to be purchased with the assistance of a hearing health professional and PSAPs did not.

This legislation would open a third designation called “OTC hearing aids” and would essentially consist of cheaper hearing aids that do not require the assistance of a healthcare professional but would operate under the FDA’s definition of “hearing aid” rather than “PSAP.” The passing of this bill would basically open up a whole new group of hearing aids that would offer features that more expensive devices provide but for a lower price. Yet, purchase would be made without the help of a hearing expert and with little to no aftercare or checkups.

Audiologists and hearing experts, as you can imagine, are not in support of this draft guidance. Studies show that 86% of people over the age of 50 who have experienced hearing loss do not wear hearing aids. Part of the reason for this legislation is that lawmakers believe that cheaper hearing aids will make more people wear them, but that does not seem to be the case. Another study showed that only about 50% of people who choose a hearing device on their own keep it as compared to over 80% of people who were fitted by an audiologist.

The key is aftercare. Having someone that is an expert in the field of hearing and hearing aids show you the product that is best for you, customize it to your needs, and then adjust it as needed for the life of the product is key to having a good hearing aid experience. This legislation may take the need for audiologists out of the equation, but for a person to be happy with their choice, hearing healthcare professionals are necessary.

Why Cheaper Isn’t Always Better

There is a reason that some hearing aids are cheaper than others. PSAPs are not designed to treat hearing loss, and OTC hearing aids do not come with the expertise of an audiologist or the features of a high-end hearing aid. If you simply want all sounds to be louder, then a cheap hearing aid or PSAP may be worth it. Even if you believe your hearing loss is virtually nonexistent and that a cheap option would work right now, getting an audiologist to test your hearing and start working with you early on will be much better for your long term, overall hearing health.

Importance of Real Ear Measurement

Real ear measures are a test that an audiologist conducts on your ears as you sit in front of a computer. This test measures how a hearing aid’s volume and pitch are affected by your ear. When a hearing aid is designed, the manufacturer bases that design on a specific ear size and shape. A real ear measure allows your audiologist to apply the hearing aid fit to your specific ear size and shape.

Getting fitted for a hearing aid is far more than simply choosing the correct device in terms of features and style. Real ear measurement is one of the more important ways that an audiologist can make a hearing aid perform at an optimal level. If you buy a cheap OTC hearing aid or PSAP, it is almost impossible for you to get the appropriate amount of amplification compared to the level of hearing loss you are experiencing. This means that it will be very difficult to ever hear at the level you are capable of.

Different Types Of Hearing Aids For Different Types Of Hearing Loss

When you are purchasing hearing aids, it is very important to match your type and level of hearing loss with a hearing aid that can address it. The majority of people who experience hearing loss begin by losing their ability to hear higher frequencies. This type of hearing loss is not corrected with PSAPs or all hearing aids. Other people prefer the most discreet hearing aid possible like a CIC hearing aid. However, if your hearing loss is profound or even severe you may never be happy with the level of amplification the smaller hearing aids offer.

BTE hearing aids currently offer the best options in terms of features, accessories, connectivity, etc. They sit on the outside of your ear, but they are becoming more and more discreet while providing a greater number of features than ever before. Many of these hearing aids offer directionality features that allow you to pinpoint the direction of sound and even focus on the person you are speaking with in challenging hearing environments.

There are also multiple brands of hearing aids available and each brand is known for a specific benefit. Some of the brands are more innovative, others are more aesthetically pleasing, and each brand has their own version of “natural hearing” features. Finding the brand that offers the features and accessories you need is of highest importance.

Making An Informed Choice

When it comes to your ears and hearing health, finding the right hearing aid for your situation and your hearing loss is more important than finding the cheapest option available. To select the right hearing aid, it is highly advisable for you to find a local audiologist who can help you through the process. Here are some things that they can do:

  • Real ear measurements
  • Explaining features and accessories
  • Using their expertise to match your hearing loss level with a hearing aid
  • Thorough ear cleanings and tests
  • Verifying you actually need a hearing aid
  • Offering the best hearing aids on the market

When you first notice any level of hearing loss, you should contact an audiologist. Catching that hearing loss early and taking decisive action is a very important step to keeping your hearing loss from further degrading. It has also been shown, time and again, that the most important step you can take to ensure happiness with your hearing aids is to find an audiologist to help you through the process.

Your hearing is not something you can afford to lose completely, and today’s hearing aids can help you not only hear “better,” but they can also offer you a natural hearing experience.

Dr. Judy Huch

Judy has devoted her career to helping individuals with hearing loss. She has been a practicing audiologist since 1991 and has owned Oro Valley Audiology since 1998. She started Grace Hearing Center (non profit) in 2016 and worked around the world to provide the gift of hearing. You can find Judy at Oro Valley Audiology, AZ.
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Dr. Judy Huch

Judy has devoted her career to helping individuals with hearing loss. She has been a practicing audiologist since 1991 and has owned Oro Valley Audiology since 1998. She started Grace Hearing Center (non profit) in 2016 and worked around the world to provide the gift of hearing. You can find Judy at Oro Valley Audiology, AZ.
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