By Cheri Perazzoli
Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are making a huge splash in the news this month with the FDA finally releasing long-awaited rules for this new category. Media outlets from the New York Times to Forbes magazine and beyond are providing much-needed press coverage about the public health crisis of hearing loss and affordable hearing care.
These OTC hearing aids will offer more options for millions of people with mild to moderate hearing loss, but they can also make the process of choosing hearing aids more complicated. The thing to remember is that while hearing aids are becoming cheaper and more accessible, getting the right hearing aids for your specific hearing loss and lifestyle remains essential. No matter where you buy your hearing aids, we recommend talking with a hearing health professional to get the best outcomes. Learn more on HLAA-WA’s new Hearing Aids 101 page.
While HLAA supports OTC hearing aids from a consumer point of view, some audiologists have some concerns that people will not get the best options for their particular hearing loss without professional guidance. You can read HLAA’s OTC consumer rationale here, and on the flip side, gain an audiologist’s perspective from our guest post by Nichole Kingham, AuD.
The main goal of establishing this new category of hearing aids is to improve affordability and access to care. Allowing consumer electronics companies to get into a space dominated by a handful of hearing aid manufacturers will hopefully inspire innovation and competition, ultimately driving down prices for consumers.
Back in the 70s, when I got my first hearing aids, I didn’t have a choice of providers or hearing aids. Because there was only one hearing aid dispenser in my town, we couldn’t compare prices or services. Even today, many small towns and rural communities have very few hearing care providers or no providers at all, but over-the counter hearing aids can be available in a variety of retail establishments.
Ever since I got my first hearing aids, I’ve always been under the care of a hearing health professional. My hearing aid purchases have always come as a bundled package. Education, guidance, counseling, and maintenance services have been included with my purchase. I am not sure I would ever have the same kind of helpful, caring conversation with a salesperson at a Best Buy store! Because my hearing loss is severe, I can’t take advantage of these over-the counter hearing aids the way I might have when I was a young working woman.
However, I could see myself purchasing an OTC hearing aid in an emergency, such as if I lost a hearing aid while I was on vacation. And I do know several folks with mild hearing loss who could see a terrific benefit from an OTC hearing aid, which could help them hear their friends and family better in noisy places.
This is an exciting time for people with hearing loss, and also a time of change for the hearing aid and hearing care industry. For years, an audiologist visit was the gold standard, so what’s next? Perhaps insurance will come to reimburse audiologists for counseling and other services, which will allow them to unbundle their services from the need to sell hearing aids. This would give consumers the benefits of working with a hearing health professional, while also being able to purchase less expensive hearing aids for mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
I encourage you to take a hearing test and to explore all the hearing enhancement options available to you — but also to work with an audiologist or your primary care provider – especially if you have ear pain or sudden hearing loss, or you can’t hear people even in quiet places. Also, be persistent and keep trying until you find a hearing device that works for you. You’ll be glad you did!