What? Hearing Aids More Accessible Now!
The Food and Drug Administration announced in August that hearing aids can be purchased over the counter in the United States, a move that is expected to lower the cost of hearing aids and expand access for millions of adults across the country.
Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic health condition facing older adults in the United States. While estimates are that 15 percent of American adults report some trouble hearing, only about one-fifth of people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually use one.
Over-the-counter options may lead more people to address their hearing loss but it’s important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of these products, said NorthBay Health audiologist Wendy Schreuder. She suggests that consumers exercise some caution.
Because hearing aids can be purchased without involving a health care professional, they should only be used for people who have mild to moderate hearing loss. For those with more severe hearing loss and people under the age of 18, prescription hearing aids are still the only option, said Wendy.
“These new categories of hearing aids may be inappropriate or inadequate to address issues including severe hearing loss,” she explained. “While they are more readily available than prescription devices, they’re not the best choice for everyone. So use caution.”
With custom hearing aids, measurements are made to ensure that different pitches of speech sounds are getting to the ear drum to meet a target prescription, based on the individuals' unique hearing loss. “And even with this, an audiologist may have to make adjustments to help troubleshoot issues or provide further counseling,” said Wendy.
She said it’s best to see an audiologist first if you suspect you may be experiencing hearing loss. “If you skip this step, there are issues that may be missed,” she explained. “And a hearing evaluation also gives your health care provider valuable insight to counsel you on realistic expectations with amplification — whether that’s with a custom-programmed hearing aid or a device purchased directly from a retailer.”
The lower prices and easier buying process offered by over-the-counter hearing aid manufacturers is a big step forward in allowing more people in the United States the opportunity to get the help they need. But before heading straight to a website or drugstore to purchase, it’s best to educate yourself, talk with your doctor and make an informed decision about which option is best to address your unique hearing needs, Wendy said.
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