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Hearing aids and cochlear implants

Hearing aids and cochlear implants help some people to hear speech and other sounds. However, a person with hearing aids or cochlear implants won’t hear everything in the same way that someone without hearing loss does.

People with mild-to-moderate hearing loss can choose between over-the-counter hearing aids or custom fit (prescription) hearing aids. People with moderate-to-severe, severe, severe-to-profound or profound hearing loss work with a hearing health provider to get custom fit hearing aids.

In some cases, an audiologist may suggest a cochlear implant or other hearing implant. Other types of implants include auditory brainstem implants, bone conduction hearing systems or middle ear systems.

Hearing aids and cochlear implants may also have:

  • Apps that let you adjust your hearing aid or cochlear implant from your smartphone or tablet.
  • Bluetooth for connecting wirelessly to other devices.
  • Telecoils, which is an antenna inside the hearing aid. Telecoils help hearing aids work with hearing aid-compatible phones, hearing loops and assistive listening devices. This can reduce background noise, so that it is easier to understand speech.

Over-the-counter hearing aids

You can now purchase over-the-counter hearing aids from pharmacies, electronics stores, big box stores and online.

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division does not endorse any specific over-the-counter hearing aids or sellers. The information on this page is to help you learn more about your options.

Who are over-the-counter hearing aids for?

  • People with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
  • People who have no other health symptoms.
  • Adults over age 18.
  • People who are comfortable setting up technology or have someone who can help them.

Do you have a mild-to-moderate hearing loss?

You might have a mild-to-moderate hearing loss if:

  • Speech or other sounds seem muffled.
  • You have trouble hearing in a group setting, in a noisy area, on the phone, or when you cannot see who is talking.
  • You often ask people to speak more clearly or louder.
  • You often ask people to repeat what they said.
  • Your family or friends often tell you the volume on the TV or radio is too loud. (Source: NIDCD)

Getting your hearing tested

A hearing test is not required to purchase OTC hearing aids, but it can be helpful. Here are some options:

When to see a doctor

  • Fluid, pus or blood coming from your ear.
  • Ear pain or discomfort.
  • History of excessive ear wax.
  • Object stuck in the ear canal.
  • Vertigo (severe dizziness) with hearing loss.
  • Sudden hearing loss or hearing loss that becomes worse quickly.
  • Fluctuating hearing loss within the last six months.
  • A noticeable difference in hearing between each ear or tinnitus (ringing) in only one ear. (Source: NIDCD)

Helpful things to know before you buy

  • Be prepared to try different hearing aids. Not every hearing aid will work for every person. 
  • Learn about the features offered with the hearing aid. Not all OTC hearing aids can connect with your phone for phone calls or streaming music. If this is important to you, find a model that can do that. Some hearing aids use batteries, while others are rechargeable. If you purchase a rechargeable hearing aid, find out how long the battery lasts, and how long it takes to recharge.
  • Be sure you fully understand the return and exchange policy. Tip: When you purchase a hearing aid, note the final return date on your calendar or set a reminder in your phone.
  • Read reviews. You can find reviews from Consumer ReportsSoundly and Wirecutter.

Questions you might ask before you buy

  • What is the total cost?
  • What is included in the total cost?
  • What features do the hearing aids have?
  • Do I need a smartphone to adjust and program the hearing aids?
  • What kind of support is available?

For more guidance, you may download Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.

More information

About hearing aids

About cochlear implants 

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