Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a rule change that would allow a class of over-the-counter hearing aids to be directly available to adult consumers without the care and advice of a medical professional. auditory. In mid-October, consumers will be able to purchase over-the-counter (OTC HA) hearing aids online and at big-box stores, pharmacies, and even through your audiologist. To date, approximately 70% of people who need hearing aids have not yet taken steps to manage their hearing loss. This new category of over-the-counter hearing aids was created with the goal of making hearing aids more affordable and readily available so that more people take steps to improve their hearing. The American Academy of Audiology (AAA) announced that it worked with congressional leaders in crafting the bill to ensure that OTC hearing aids will be safe and effective. Most importantly, the organization wants to ensure that consumers know that hearing is an essential aspect of health and deserves attention and care. Untreated or undertreated hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline, social isolation, anxiety, depression and can have a significant impact on quality of life.
“Unfortunately, hearing loss associated with aging has been considered normal, simply because it is common,” said Sarah Sydlowski, AuD, PhD, MBA, president of the AAA. Sydlowski is also director of audiology for the Hearing Implant Program and associate director of enhancement at the Cleveland Clinic. “While hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition, it’s not something we should ignore or learn to manage. Hearing is what connects us to people; it keeps us vital as we go. as we age; it allows us to be successful in the workplace. We have a pair of ears for our entire lives and it is essential to protect and maintain them.
“While over-the-counter hearing aids will work for some, they won’t work for everyone,” Sydlowski explained. “If a hearing aid over-amplifies sound, it can damage hearing. Conversely, simply wearing something in the ear is not enough to offset the side effects of hearing loss if the sound is not amplified enough. There are also concerns that buyers of over-the-counter hearing aids with significant hearing loss will be disappointed and give up trying to correct their hearing. “For these, we hope OTC hearing aids will be an entry point so they can determine that they need a better solution,” Sydlowski added.
Using over-the-counter HAs can be a way to start managing hearing loss in adults who perceive mild to moderate hearing difficulties. For example, consumers who can hear easily in quiet, one-on-one situations, but have difficulty in groups, may be good candidates. Or, if there are a few difficult listening situations where they think OTC hearing aids would be helpful (as opposed to most situations), OTC may be a situational solution. If slightly increasing the volume of the phone or television helps them hear better, OTC hearing aids can help them in certain situations.
Here are some tips for anyone considering using over-the-counter hearing aids:
- Consult a hearing care professional first. “An audiologist can test your hearing and determine if you’re a good candidate for over-the-counter hearing aids,” Sydlowski said. “Hearing loss can happen gradually and research shows that people have a hard time determining the degree of hearing loss they may have. A professional assessment will help you determine if OTC hearing aids will work effectively for you or if an aid Prescription hearing or even an implantable device like a cochlear implant is more appropriate.Hearing evaluations are almost always covered by insurance, even if hearing aids are not, and knowing the right options for you could save you dollars. considerable in the long term.
- Do not use an OTC hearing aid if any “red flags” are present. If a difference in hearing between the ears is evident, or if symptoms such as pain or discharge from the ear are present, it is important to consult a physician or audiologist before proceeding with an over-the-counter hearing aid. Tinnitus (buzzing) in one ear, fullness or pressure in your ears, or sudden hearing loss are other reasons to see a professional.
- Check the OTC hearing aid return policy before purchasing. The FDA does not require over-the-counter hearing aids to be returnable, but does indicate that the device packaging states the return policy. There are many factors to successful hearing aid use and not all devices will be created equal, so it is important that consumers have the opportunity to return. Also, be sure to note that devices can be sold refurbished, but must be labeled as such.
- Understand device settings and programming. Not all OTC hearing aids are the same. Make sure the device fits your lifestyle and has settings that can reflect your hearing needs. Fully understand how to set up the device and its capabilities. If you’re not sure the OTC hearing aid is doing all it’s supposed to, an audiologist can measure the settings against your hearing loss and discuss the benefits and limitations with you.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of seeing an audiologist,” Sydlowski added. “In addition to providing a hearing test and personalized hearing needs assessment, they will be knowledgeable and able to make recommendations, program a device, and ensure patients have the best possible outcomes and experiences.”
Audiologists are doctoral-level professionals who are trained to assess hearing, diagnose hearing loss, and help optimize hearing health and communication through safe and effective use of hearing aids and other devices, realistic expectations, and benefits and risks associated with the use of either OTC. or prescription hearing aids.
“No matter what type of hearing aids are chosen, an audiologist can help ensure consumers get the most out of them,” Sydlowski said. “Audiologists can also ensure that hearing care needs are addressed over time as hearing or hearing demands change, starting with the prevention of hearing loss and including all types of hearing loss management.”
The AAA contains several documents, frequently asked questions, and information about over-the-counter and prescription hearing aids. Visit: www.audiology.org/consumers-and-patients/managing-hearing-loss/consumers-and-otc-hearing-aids/ for more information. To find an audiologist in your area, visit: www.howsyourhearing.org.