If you are noticing difficulty hearing, it is possible that it is time for hearing aids. Particularly if you struggle in noisy environments like restaurants or where there are multiple people speaking, over the phone, or when you are otherwise missing visual cues. A barrier for many individuals who are candidates for hearing aids is the expense. They are definitely an investment and come at a very wide range of price points. There are ways to get helpful amplification without spending beyond your means.
This article will describe the best types of inexpensive hearing aids available, a range of expected costs, and how to prioritize when you do decide to pursue hearing aids.
How are traditional hearing aids priced?
Traditional hearing aids are dispensed by an audiologist or hearing aid dispenser following a full diagnostic audiological evaluation, and often after obtaining medical clearance from a primary care physician. The general model for hearing aids is a bundled one, meaning that the cost of the devices includes a manufacturer repair warranty, loss and damage warranty, and service fees by the provider for continued programming adjustments. These warranties vary in length depending on the price point: typically, the higher technology level also comes with longer warranty and service periods at the greater cost.
Most patients with hearing loss are candidates for binaural (two) hearing aids. Hearing should be symmetrical between ears. The cost for a pair of traditional, prescription hearing aids can range anywhere from $2,500 to $7,500. There are several manufacturers of hearing aids, all of whom produce high quality hearing aids with a variety of features and available styles.
All of these brands offer noise reduction, directional microphones, and Bluetooth compatibility, among other options. They also provide hearing aids in all styles, including behind-the-ear (BTE), open fit receiver-in-the-ear/receiver-in-canal, and custom in-the-ear (ITE). You can discuss styles with your audiologist to determine what is appropriate based on your hearing loss as well as comfort and aesthetic preferences.
Traditional hearing aids are programmed using proprietary manufacturer software. Providers may have preferences for one or two manufacturers over the others due to comfort with the software and devices, and this is okay. If you find a provider that you like and trust, you should feel good about going with their recommendation of device. Your provider can help you to determine the appropriate technology level based on your hearing needs and lifestyle. If you are in need of an inexpensive option, you might consider entry level devices.
These hearing aids are going to provide amplification specific to your hearing loss. They will offer noise reduction and directional microphones, and likely some Bluetooth and other streaming capabilities, perhaps rechargeability. What you would be missing by going with an entry level device compared with the higher end devices is some of the automaticity as you transition into different challenging listening environments, as well as increased flexibility and options for the audiologist while programming.
While they are a large investment up front, the continued maintenance of being a hearing aid user should be minimal at least for the first few years. You will likely see the audiologist or hearing dispenser a few times over the first couple of months for adjustments and fine-tuning, and then annually after that. Your hearing aids can be reprogrammed for changes in hearing sensitivity, to add additional manual programs, or to incorporate assistive listening devices. Your communication with your provider is essential to finding success with your devices.
What about over the counter devices?
In August of 2022, the FDA passed legislation allowing over the counter hearing aids, often known as “OTCs,” to be sold directly to consumers; so, they are regulated by the FDA, but are not fit by a licensed professional. Many OTCs have a “self-fitting” model, meaning that the patient will self-administer a hearing test and the OTC devices will accommodate that measured hearing loss, to some extent. OTCs do have noise reduction, and some are rechargeable and Bluetooth compatible, but they are not as advanced as traditional hearing aids.
Additionally, this type of hearing aid is only appropriate for mild to moderate sensorineural hearing losses. OTCs are still an investment, with an average cost of $1,600-$3,000 for a pair, according to the National Council on Aging (2022). This would not include any services from a professional and relies on the user to perform their hearing test and run the programming algorithm accordingly.
Below are three of the most popular OTCs available.
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The final category of hearing aids is personal sound amplification products (PSAPs). A PSAP is a device that looks similar to a behind-the-ear hearing aid. It is designed to make sound louder. It is not customized for the individual’s hearing loss, nor is it discriminating between different sounds in the environment and making determinations about what to amplify (i.e. speech versus noise). PSAPs can be purchased in stores or online and are generally quite inexpensive.
In a nutshell, PSAPs are worn on the ears and make everything universally louder. They are not FDA regulated and can be purchased directly by consumers. They do not have any accompanying service or technology to customize them to the individual but are more comparable to wearing a small set of microphones on your ears. PSAPs are definitely the least expensive option, sold for as low as $50 for a pair but usually higher end amplifiers cost close to $799-$999. If inexpensive hearing aids is what you are looking for, the Jabra Enhance Plus is a great option!
With any of these devices, it is important to investigate the trial period. State laws mandate trial periods for traditional hearing aids, which can range anywhere from 30 days to 180 days and may vary depending on the setting where you purchase the hearing aids. Some OTCs also offer a trial period of 30-45 days. Be mindful that it often takes time to adjust to amplification and that the benefits may not be immediate. Being aware of the trial period for your devices can lessen some of the financial stress if you are unsure about whether you are making the right decision.
Highly Recommended PSAP:
How can I balance performance and price?
Navigating the hearing aid search when you are on a budget can be quite tricky. The first thing you should do is check the licensure and qualifications of your provider. Make sure you are seeing a reputable individual who has experience with both diagnostic testing and hearing aid dispensing.
You can check an audiologist in the ASHA or AAA directories above (not all audiologists will be registered with both organizations, but they should be able to provide you with their credentials and memberships) or by National Provider Identifier (NPI). You can verify a hearing aid dispenser’s license on a state-to-state basis. Even if you do plan to pursue over the counter hearing aids, you should start with a full diagnostic hearing evaluation. This is often covered by insurance, and your provider can help guide you through what might be appropriate in addition to explaining your test results.
Regardless of retailer, make sure that the hearing aid pricing is transparent and be wary of any big marketing pushes like “buy one get one free” or advertising big discounts. The hearing aids should have at least a 30-day trial period, and at least a one-year manufacturer warranty. You should know exactly what you’re paying for and what is covered with that charge, and if there is an advertisement for a significant discount it could be a red flag. Ensure that there is a trial period and check the return policy for any hearing aids you are considering purchasing.
Remember that the reason for purchasing hearing aids is to hear better in your daily life; for many people this means restoring social connections and hobbies that they have had to let go of due to hearing difficulties. Think about your main motivation for pursuing hearing aids. Is it to re-join your Thursday night dinner with friends? Is it to hear better when you are FaceTiming with your grandchildren? Is it to simply let your spouse control the TV volume to their comfort? These scenarios all encompass different hearing aid features that you can probably get, to varying degrees of success, at any price point.
What you want to avoid is burning through several sets of cheap, ineffective hearing aids before you ultimately reach a point of needing to purchase prescription aids. Here are some steps for decision making:
- Research and compare options. Research different hearing aid brands, models, and features. If you are purchasing from a professional, prices for identical devices can vary slightly based on the type of retailer and what is bundled in the cost. It is not uncommon for patients to shop around a bit but remember that if you find a provider you trust, that relationship can be really valuable in your hearing journey. If you are purchasing online, read reviews. If possible, read reviews of the same devices from multiple sites.
- Consider essential features. Even the most basic hearing aids should have directional microphones, noise reduction, and feedback suppression. They should probably have an option for programs for different situations, either automatic or manual. There may be hearing aids that advertise other flashy features, but these are the essentials for hearing performance.
- Explore affordable brands and models. There are recognizable brands of other electronics such as Jabra, Siemens, and Bose that make OTC hearing aids with good reviews. They are likely more expensive than the $50-$100 models, but those are going to be much closer to a PSAP than a prescription device.
- Seek professional guidance. Consult with a hearing healthcare professional who can guide you towards cost-effective solutions. While hearing aid sales can be the livelihood of many providers, most also go into the field because they want to help people hear better. These professionals understand the investment that hearing aids can be, and if you truly cannot afford prescription devices, they will do their best to guide you to the best inexpensive hearing aids that fit your budget. Additionally, a professional will ensure that your hearing loss is appropriate to be treated by such solutions. If the hearing loss is too severe, asymmetrical, or potentially has a medical etiology that requires a referral to another professional, they will be able to provide that information.
Inexpensive Hearing Aids Conclusion (Tips)
Whether or not you are working on a budget, you should check with your insurance to see if you have a hearing aid benefit. Rarely do insurers cover the entire cost of the devices, but increasingly they are offering a certain amount every few years to help offset the expense. You can also check with your provider to see if they offer budget billing, payment plans, or a sliding scale for the cost of devices. These types of services are more likely to be available from larger hospitals or university clinics than private practices.
There are some ways to obtain hearing aids for free or for significantly less investment. You may check with your church or other local community organization. Often when people pass away, they donate their hearing aids, and in many cases, they can be taken to a provider to be reprogrammed for your hearing loss for the cost of a fitting fee, which is relatively minimal. Bear in mind that they won’t carry any warranty for loss, damage, or repair, but this can be a great option to obtain free devices.
You can also check with your local Lions Club, which has a program for refurbished, donated hearing aids as well as new entry level devices from certain manufacturers. The Starkey Hear Now foundation provides hearing aids to individuals who meet certain requirements in terms of income and employment.
It is very important to find a balance between affordability and performance when choosing hearing aids. The first step is always to obtain a full diagnostic hearing test from a professional before pursuing any type of amplification. That individual can help guide you through what devices might be appropriate based on your degree of hearing loss. If you choose to pursue OTCs rather than prescription devices, you will be doing so with some information about your hearing loss and what traditional aids and that provider can offer you.
Erin Edwards received her Doctor of Audiology degree from Towson University in 2015 and her Ph.D. in Education and Leadership from Pacific University in 2022. She has worked with patients of all ages in a variety of settings and has a specific interest in cochlear implants, the relationship of hearing loss and dementia, and interdisciplinary healthcare.