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When we’re looking to make a big purchase, it’s natural to want to look around to find the best deal. For this reason, many people considering hearing aids look at whether it’s possible to purchase them online. Can you buy hearing aids online? Well, it is possible, but the more important question isn’t can you, but should you?

Can you do it?

In recent years we have seen a rise in the number of websites selling ‘hearing aids’ online. In South Africa, it is illegal to sell a hearing aid (a medical device) without a consultation. However, it is possible for people to go on to a variety of sites and purchase a hearing aid (or something that looks like a hearing aid) without ever seeing a hearing healthcare professional. This might sound convenient, but it is very problematic and can even be dangerous.

You need a hearing test!

A trained and experienced hearing healthcare professional such as an audiologist should always fit hearing aids. It is impossible to accurately fit any hearing aid without an audiogram (a graph indicating the person’s hearing thresholds). You should always have a full diagnostic hearing test done first. It’s possible that other issues may be picked up in the hearing test. These must be addressed before fitting hearing aids.

If I have an audiogram, can I use it to purchase and fit my own hearing aid?

There are sites that claim that you can purchase a hearing aid that has been programmed based on the hearing test results that you supply. While this sounds convenient, remember that there are many variables when it comes to hearing aid fitting. There are many styles and technology levels of aids, and each one can be fitted with a variety of acoustic and fit options. There is no way to know what a person needs based solely on their audiogram- consultation, discussion, and analysis of a person’s needs and lifestyle is vital. The right aid, fitting, and settings, cannot be estimated by a lay person without working with a professional, even if they are based on a hearing test.

What happens after fitting?

If you purchase a device online, there is no follow up care. Fine tuning is almost always required to get the perfect fit and sound with a hearing aid. Hearing aid fitting takes time and adjustment. It’s important to work with a hearing healthcare professional who can guide you as to when adjustments are required and when your brain needs to adapt to the sound of the aids. When you work with an audiologist, you know that you can always receive help and support with your hearing aid. When you purchase aids online, you are on your own. You may not be able to find a professional who can assist you.

The risks

An inappropriate hearing aid, or a hearing aid set incorrectly, can cause permanent damage to your hearing. It may be too soft, which can cause understimulation and therefore deterioration. It can also be too loud and cause noise-induced hearing loss. There is no way to know what kind of damage you might be doing if you purchase a hearing aid on your own. Because there is no verification or validation used to check the fit of online hearing aids, you might end up with a hearing aid that does not help you.

There is also a financial risk to purchasing aids online. You have no guarantee of your warranty, and no protection should something go wrong with the aids. Quite the opposite is true when you work with a reputable audiologist. This professional acts as your representative to the hearing aid companies should you need it.

Can you buy hearing aids online? Technically yes, but we do not recommend it. Hearing aid fitting is a process. A hearing healthcare professional such as an audiologist should always be involved. Buying hearing aids online is risky in more ways than one. For more information, please contact us or reach out to the South African Audiology Association to learn more about their position on online hearing aid purchasing.