Only one in five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually use one, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. Many hope that over-the-counter hearing aids could address this problem. However, hearing aids are not yet available for over-the-counter purchase. We talked to medical experts to find out more.
Why Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids Are So Important
WebMD’s coverage of over-the-counter hearing aids notes that the medical evaluation required by licensed professional hearing aid dispensers can be a costly obstacle for people seeking hearing aids—which has driven up demand for other options.“Over-the-counter hearing aids [will be] a cost-effective solution that some people can benefit from,” Eryn Staats, AuD, an audiology manager at The Ohio State Wexner University Medical Center, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
The devices will be designed for those with mild-to-moderate hearing loss and will provide an easy and affordable option for improving hearing, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America.
Can You Buy Hearing Aids Over-the-Counter Right Now?
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, designed to increase access and affordability of certain types of hearing aids, was signed into law in 2017. However, you cannot yet buy FDA-approved hearing aids over the counter. As of the writing of this article, the FDA has not yet issued mandated guidance on marketing over-the-counter hearing aids, so the devices cannot yet hit the market.
Any “hearing aids” you may see currently in stores are not technically hearing aids—the FDA actually classifies them as personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs. PSAPs are meant to augment the hearing of those without hearing loss. They aren't for everyday use in diverse auditory environments, nor are they approved to address specific hearing loss needs.
When true over-the-counter hearing aids are approved to sell, the price will be an important factor. “Since there are no products in this category yet, it is impossible to know how much they will cost,” Brad Ingrao, AuD, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “However, a primary focus was to encourage solutions below the current average cost of traditional hearing aids—around $2,500 per device,” Ingrao says.
Even when over-the-counter hearing aids become available, people should still seek medical guidance before using them.
“Unless a hearing test has been performed by an audiologist, the consumer is attempting to self-treat their situation without critical information,” Leslie P. Soiles, AuD, chief audiologist at HearingLife, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “A hearing test determines a person's level of hearing loss, which ear might be worse, and whether or not there are medical conditions that need to be followed up by a doctor,” Soiles says.
Alternative Ways to Buy Hearing Aids
In the July/August 2020 issue of Audiology Today, the American Academy of Audiology states that tele-audiology services are “laying the groundwork for ‘the new normal’” in the age of social distancing. The Academy notes that several recent advancements in the field of tele-audiology are already allowing patients to use virtual clinics to receive direct-to-consumer (DTC) hearing aids with minimal or no in-person contact with their service providers.
Although your experience with your chosen DTC hearing aid provider may vary, The American Academy of Audiology states that tele-audiology services will typically include the following:
- Online hearing assessment. Using your Internet-connected mobile smartphone, computer, or tablet and specially-calibrated headphones, you will complete a hearing assessment. Today’s technology can successfully perform hearing screening, hearing threshold assessment, and speech audiometry in this manner. Your provider may also provide you with questionnaires so that they can better assess your hearing loss needs. Some providers can also send technicians outfitted with the appropriate audiometry equipment to your home in order to complete your assessments.
- Video visits with your provider. Your provider should use a communication platform that is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This Act contains standards that healthcare providers must follow in order to protect your privacy.
- Shipped DTC hearing aids. Based on the findings of your online hearing assessments, your service provider will mail your personalized DTC hearing aids to you.
- Ongoing calibration and adjustment services. Your service provider can provide a variety of adjustment services via smartphone apps or remote programming to keep your DTC hearing aids properly functioning. These services typically include: full or limited fine-tuning, feedback measurements, programming adjustments for specific listening environments, remote firmware updates, and identification of microphone, speaker, or internal noise problems.
Hearing loss can be managed and treated.
The earlier you address the symptoms of hearing loss, the more likely you are to avoid irreversible damage. Get the answers you need to start treatment today.