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Dickey and Lower: Know the facts about over-the-counter hearing aids

over-the-counter hearing aids

Starting in October, over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids became available for sale at local stores and online for the first time, making it possible for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss to buy the devices without a prescription. (Vinicius Tupinamba/Dreamstime/TNS)

In response to an increasingly aging population and a shortage of Audiologists to assist them, Congress passed a law in 2017 directing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to create a new category of hearing aids called over-the-counter, or OTC. These new hearing aids can be purchased without a visit to a physician or hearing care professional. They are designed for adults with “perceived mild to moderate hearing loss in both ears.” As many of us may know, hearing aids are not covered by Medicare or most private insurers, so many people who need them choose to go without. The intent of the new law, which goes into effect this month, is to provide access to sound amplification to more people who need it. While these devices are very new, and little to no data about consumer satisfaction is available at this point, there are some important factors to consider before purchasing OTC hearing aids.

OTC hearing aids are expected to be substantially less expensive than prescription versions, but not much is included with purchase except a manufacturer’s warranty. Learning to use and adapt to new hearing aids can be an overwhelming process, and with no professional instruction and guidance, many OTC aids may end up in dresser drawers instead of ears.

Customization of the fit and personalized sound adjustments are important for successful hearing aid use. Most of that goes away with OTC products. The FDA has required that consumers will be able to make adjustments themselves, likely through a smartphone app, but we know that not everyone is savvy enough to make the best adjustments. Before trying OTC aids, it is best to consider if you are willing to sacrifice expert testing and consultation, personalized fitting, instruction, follow up counseling and support for your investment.

It is also important to note that the National Institute on Health has recommended a visit to a physician or Audiologist for certain conditions including tinnitus (ringing in the ear), worse hearing in one ear than the other, fluctuating hearing, episodes of vertigo or dizziness accompanied by hearing loss, ear pain or drainage.

We strongly urge everyone to consider these factors when exploring which option might best address your or a loved one’s hearing loss. Please consult your hearing care professional or, if you do not have one, come and see one of us at Roanoke Valley Speech and Hearing Center.

Lower, an audiologist for more than 30 years, recently joined Roanoke Valley Speech and Hearing Center. She holds a B.A. in deaf education from Flagler College, an M.Ed. in audiology from the University of Virginia, and an Au.D. in Audiology from Arizona School of Health Sciences. Dickey, an audiologist for nearly 20 years, has worked at Roanoke Valley Speech and Hearing for five years. She holds a B.S. in communication sciences and disorders and deaf studies from Marywood University, an M.S. in audiology from East Tennessee State University and an Au.D. in audiology from the University of Florida.

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