NEWS

Why Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids Aren't for Kids

Parent puts a hearing aid on a child

Kemal Yildirim / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Over-the-counter hearing aids are now available throughout the country, which means you will no longer need to see a doctor in order to purchase one.
  • However, parents should know that these hearing aids are only for those 18 years and older who have mild to moderate hearing loss.
  • If you suspect your child suffers from hearing loss, it’s imperative to get them checked out by their pediatrician or a licensed pediatric audiologist.

Good news for millions of Americans who have hearing loss. You can now buy hearing aids over-the-counter without having to see a doctor. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed the rules in August, clearing the way for the devices to be sold in retail stores.

This is a huge step for those with mild to moderate hearing loss—and may even lower the cost of hearing aids for people who will no longer need to get medical exams, prescriptions, or see audiologists to get hearing aids. But there's one section of the population that cannot benefit from this new policy: children.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows between one and three per 1,000 children have hearing loss. However, parents with children who may have hearing loss need to be aware that these over-the-counter hearing aids are only for adults. They are not for children or even adults who might suffer from more severe forms of hearing loss. If you worry that your child suffers from hearing loss, however, there are still steps you can take to get your child help.

When Should Children Get Hearing Aids?

“With children, early intervention is key,” says Jen Thomson, assistant director of audiology for Columbus Speech & Hearing. All babies will have their hearing screened at the hospital shortly after birth, but if a baby does not pass their newborn hearing screening, they are referred for diagnostic testing after discharge. “The diagnostic test can determine if there is a hearing loss, along with the type and severity of the loss. It can also determine if the hearing loss is in one or both ears,” she says.

Generally, audiologists follow a 1-3-6 benchmark. That means a child should have their hearing screened before 1 month of age, then have a hearing evaluation before 3 months of age. If hearing aids or other intervention is needed, that should be completed before 6 months of age. “The earlier a child can be identified and start intervention, the more likely they will have favorable outcomes,” adds Thomson.

However, even if your babies or young children have passed a hearing screening before, it is still important to look out for signs of hearing loss that may occur later. Thomson points out the below behaviors for you to be aware of when it comes to your child:

  • Does not startle to loud noises
  • Does not say single words by 1 year of age
  • Does not turn to sound after 6 months of age
  • Speech is not clear or understandable
  • Turns media (music/television/tablets) up too high
  • Speech development is delayed

If you see any of these signs, it’s imperative you get your child checked out by an audiologist as soon as possible.

Are Hearing Aids Good for Kids?

Provided they are fitted correctly, hearing aids can actually be incredibly beneficial for kids, says Thomson. “Hearing aids can help with many types of hearing loss in children of all ages,” she says.

“Hearing sounds, words, and music helps children learn to talk and understand," Thomson adds. "If they have hearing loss, they may not be able to develop speech, language, or social skills in school. They can have difficulty in school and while communicating with friends and other adults. An audiologist can help you find the right hearing aid for your child.”

Not every hearing aid will work for every child. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids are the most common for young children. Babies can’t pull them out as easily. However, note it will take time to get your child used to these aids, and your child may need help putting the hearing aids on, keeping them on, and adjusting them. Gradually, however, this should cease being an issue. 

Why Can’t My Child Use an Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid?

Unfortunately, over-the-counter hearing aids have only been FDA approved for those 18 and older with a perceived mild to moderate hearing loss. “Since OTC hearing aids are not approved for children, those under 18 should be fitted by a licensed audiologist based on their level of hearing loss,” says Thomson.

Since OTC hearing aids are not approved for children, those under 18 should be fitted by a licensed audiologist based on their level of hearing loss.

JEN THOMSON, AUDIOLOGY DIRECTOR

OTC hearing aids can provide significant risks for children. Parents or children may program them to be too loud, resulting in even worse hearing damage for kids. If they’re self-programmed to be too quiet, kids may not catch important details when learning or in emergencies, which could put them at risk.

Some OTC hearing aids also don’t include important safety features for children, such as a secure latch for the battery door. Hearing aid batteries can be toxic if swallowed. If a small child is left unattended with a hearing aid without a secure battery door, it could be a significant risk to their health and safety.

How Do I Get My Child Hearing Aids?

Since OTC hearing aids are not meant for children, you will have to see an audiologist to get your child fitted for one. If you suspect that your child has hearing loss, visit your child's pediatrician or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor right away. From there, you can ask for a referral to a pediatric audiologist. These hearing care professionals specialize in testing, treatment, and follow-up for children with hearing loss.

After performing a hearing test, if hearing aids are needed, the audiologist will go through all options and discuss those with you. An audiologist will fit the hearing aids according to your child’s hearing loss. They will also verify the instruments to ensure the hearing aids are appropriately fitted for not only the child’s hearing loss but also the anatomy of the child’s ear. Children are typically seen for follow-up every three to six months, depending on the services needed.

What This Means For You

While over-the-counter hearing aids are a huge help for many Americans who suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss, children should not be using them due to risks to their health and safety. Instead, if you think your child suffers from hearing loss, you should get them tested by a pediatric audiologist. These types of specialists will perform the correct diagnostic tests, and ensure the hearing aids are appropriately fitted for not only the child’s hearing loss, but also the anatomy of the child’s ear.

9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Food and Drug Administration. FDA finalizes historic rule enabling access to over-the-counter hearing aids for millions of Americans.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Screening and Diagnosis of Hearing Loss.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research and tracking of hearing loss in children

  4. Hearing Loss Association of America.Over-the-counter (Otc) hearing aids.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is Hearing Loss in Children?.

  6. Muñoz K, Hill MM. Hearing aid use for children with hearing loss: a literature reviewPerspect Hear Hear Dis Child. 2015;25(1):4-14. doi:10.1044/hhdc25.1.4

  7. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Hearing Aids and Devices for Children with Hearing Loss.

  8. American Academy of Audiology. Children and Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

  9. American Academy of Audiology. Children and Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

By Nikhita Mahtani
Nikhita Mahtani is a contributing writer with extensive experience in parenting, health, and wellness. She primarily uses her contacts in the mental health and medical industry to help readers deal with stress and burnout, prejudices or racial bias—especially in the parenting space, and the mind-body connection.