Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids: My Experience as a Blind Person

closeup of hearing aid in ear

I’d like to say it started in my early 50’s when I could no longer hear the ding of the triangle in one of my favorite Queen songs. But if you ask my husband and family, they would say my challenges with hearing started much earlier. Frequently asking, “What?” had become a habit, as was turning up the volume on the TV. My father had hearing loss, which he ignored for many years, and I, too, was in denial. I kept thinking I would get my hearing checked someday, but it was not that bad.  

Relying on Hearing 

Being legally blind since birth and having my vision progressively reduced, hearing has always played an essential role in communicating and socializing with others, along with helping me stay oriented within my environment. Sound cues are also helpful with daily living tasks like telling when water is boiling, when the washing machine is in different cycles, or when the hotel key card has successfully unlocked the door after inserting it into the sensor.  

Things started becoming more of an issue when I had trouble hearing questions and comments from people in the back of the room when giving conference presentations. Since this is a crucial part of my job and something I enjoy doing, I wanted to find ways to overcome this challenge. Then I learned about over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. Could they be the quick-fix solution I was hoping for? 

Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids 

I noticed several commercials about the more affordable option of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. Since I work for an organization out of state, my local healthcare providers are primarily out of network for my insurance. The thought of paying for an exam by an audiologist, coupled with the cost of prescription hearing aids, was daunting. With upcoming international conference presentations, I thought it was a good time to learn more and possibly take action. But where to begin?   

Getting Started with OTC Hearing Aids

I attended a webinar by the Hearing Loss Association of America, which offered helpful information and resources. I tried to test my hearing using recommended apps, but they were not completely accessible with VoiceOver. They gave results of severe hearing loss, which, of course, I did not think I had. I also reviewed an article from HearingTracker comparing different types of OTC aids. This was wonderful but led to more questions.  

What style did I want? Were buttons on the aids essential? Did I want to change batteries or have rechargeable aids? Did I need/want to stream VoiceOver, phone calls, and music on my iPhone? And, of course, how much was I willing to pay? After reviewing the article again and understanding that OTC aids were recommended for people with mild to moderate hearing loss, I made my decision and took a chance.  

My Choice 

When the hearing aids arrived, I was excited about how simple they seemed. I decided on the receiver in canal (RIC) style, which has a piece that fits inside the ear. A thin wire connects this piece to what I call the base. The wire is draped over the top of my ear so the base sits behind the ear. Buttons on the “base” part of each aid control the volume and access pre-set programs for adjustments to the sound quality. The instructions seemed simple.  

Unfortunately, the associated app is only partially accessible. I can access some information, but I’m not able to make more specific adjustments via the app using VoiceOver. I’ve successfully paired the aids with my iPhone twice, which worked well for hearing my phone but is definitely not consistent. Thankfully, I’m finding that the control I have over adjustments using the buttons on the aids works well. But are these aids improving my hearing? 


I first noticed the difference when using my computer. The volume of my JAWS screen reader sounded louder without making any changes on the computer itself. I no longer leaned in to get closer to the laptop speaker to hear, which had become a common practice. My posture has improved as a result. Sounds from other rooms and the birds outside sounded much louder. I can now more noticeably hear our cat lapping his food when feeding him.  

I was surprised at how loud the running water in the sink or the toilet flush sounded. At first, these sounds sounded like crackling paper or food frying on the stovetop rather than running water. Other sounds, like brushing my hands on my pants or even the creak when walking across the floor, were new sounds I hadn’t heard before, or at least not at this level. I asked my husband to talk more quietly as he was used to talking louder, and conversations on the TV were easier to hear and understand without increasing the volume. I could even better understand our smart speaker when we played our favorite trivia games. Sounds seem to sound brighter. I also wore them during a work meeting and found hearing people across a large room easier. 

Challenges with OTC Hearing Aids 

Is it always perfect?  No, but what in life is?  It’s uncomfortable when I use headphones with my computer. I have to press the hearing aids into my ears further or press the buttons. It’s also difficult to tell where some sounds are coming from. They sound closer than they are or are coming from a different direction. These are things I’m trying to adapt to by not wearing my hearing aids if I need to wear headphones for an extended period.  

I ask others where sounds are coming from as I get used to adjusting based on my perception. I adapt by using one aid to put in one earbud when using my iPhone. I’m unsure if this is best, but it works now. I’m still unable to hear the ding of the triangle in the Queen song, but I can better hear the driver’s conversation when riding in the back seat of a vehicle, which was difficult to hear before. 

What I’ve Learned 

A hard lesson I learned was to be careful when moving items around my ears or head. My heart sank when, after having my aids for less than two months, I lost one of my OTC aids somewhere between the airport and home. It fell out after I removed the mask I wore on the plane. The company did not offer replacements or sell individual aids, so I had to buy a new pair.  

I may need to graduate to prescription aids for even better results and could benefit from working with an audiologist. I was reminded of resources to help pay for hearing aids, including vocational rehabilitation services. I also facilitated a webinar on OTC aids so others can learn more. I know I’m just beginning, and this adventure will continue. 

Whether you choose OTC or prescription aids, be patient. Feeling comfortable using hearing aids takes time. The most important part of the adventure is taking that first step to address hearing loss, especially when one is blind or has low vision. Are you ready to take the step?  

Learn More 

Considerations for OTC Hearing Aids when one has low vision (webinar) 

Best OTC hearing aids 

 About Jennifer Ottowitz

Jennifer Ottowitz is a Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (CVRT) who holds a Bachelor of Science in Special Education for the Multiply and Orthopedically Handicapped from Kent State University and a Master of Science in Special Education for the Visually Impaired from Northern Illinois University. Jennifer works in the Older Individuals who are Blind – Technical Assistance Center, part of the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision, at Mississippi State University.