What’s the Difference

Between Seeing a Professional or Buying Off the Shelf?

They go by many names: personal sound amplification devices, direct-to-consumer hearing aids, or coming in the next few years, over-the-counter hearing aids. They may be purchased online, advertised in a magazine or pop up in your social media feed.

While these alternate hearing devices may seem like an economical option to improve your hearing ability, the old saying holds true: You get what you pay for. You might find that these off-the-shelf devices fall short when compared to a customizable hearing aid that you can only get from a hearing care provider.

Nikolas Klakow, Au.D., Phonak Manager, Clinical Training, shares his insights into the differences in the products and working with a hearing care provider.

Why just ‘get by’?

Klakow likened purchasing a hearing aid “off the shelf” to the eyeglass industry. “In terms of the value of seeing a professional, you can get reading glasses at the store, but those readers just get you by,” he said. “If you have a more difficult prescription issue, that over-the-counter solution is no longer going to be ideal.”

There’s a similarity to hearing care — you could get something off the shelf that you put on that might give you the ability to turn it louder or softer, and it may help more than not wearing anything. “Although at sometimes or in some situations, it may not help at all,” he added.

Find a hearing aid that fits you

With specialized programming, the hearing care provider can customize the sound for you as well as find what your hearing aid needs to be to match your lifestyle.

“Adjustments can be made to accommodate a very specific environment — that could be a noisy work environment or in a crowded restaurant. A hearing care provider can fine-tune the device so the hearing aid wearer can hear during a family event and socialize with their friends and family,” said Klakow.

“While the hearing technology already allows a hearing aid to accommodate various sounds, the professional can actually retune the device for each specific situation,” he added. “The hearing aid can then go to that setting when it senses the specific situation, and it does that automatically.” Each setting can be individually customized by a clinician.

So how does the customization work?

“The first fit is the simplest,” Klakow explained. “It’s the time when the hearing care provider may be least needed. However, it’s when the person comes back in for the follow-up and says, ‘Here’s where it was a little too loud, here’s where it was too sharp, this wasn’t loud enough, I struggled here.’ That’s the strength of going to see a hearing care professional.”

The hearing care provider can interpret what the patient is commenting on and figure out whether it’s a programming issue and adjustments are needed for the hearing aid. Or if it is a counseling issue.

“That’s a really important differentiation. That’s where I feel the over-the-counter options will have limitations. Once you put it in, you’re on your own,” said Klakow.

Other topics of interest:

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