In Biden’s recent executive order, he shared that hearing aids are so expensive (greater than $5,000/pair) that only 14% of approximately the 48 million Americans with a hearing loss use them.
As a result, he will direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “to consider issuing proposed rules within 120 days for allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter.”
The question is, what are OTC hearing aids, and are they a good thing or a bad thing for the people we serve here in South Louisiana?
What Are Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids?
Over-the-counter hearing aids are a new category of hearing aids that are going to be regulated by the FDA.
An individual who thinks they have a mild to moderate hearing loss can directly go to stores, such as Walmart, Target, or even CVS, and purchase those products directly there or online.
You can purchase these hearing devices without going to a doctor of audiology. You don’t need a hearing test. You don’t need a prescription.
You’re basically self-treating with these over-the-counter hearing aids. It’s similar to buying reading glasses at a Walmart or CVS.
OTC Hearing Aids – The Good And The Bad
The idea of making hearing aids more affordable can be a very good thing, but as with anything, I think it could be misused.
I think the positive is that it will provide millions of people with better and more convenient access to hearing devices.
Millions of Americans with a hearing loss aren’t being treated with hearing aids.
Making OTC hearing aids available will give them better access to purchase these hearing aids to treat their hearing loss, especially when they may not be able to get to a hearing care professional easily.
Maybe they live in a rural area, or maybe they simply can’t afford traditional hearing aid packages that include many professional services.
They can be a good starting point for people with a very borderline or mild hearing loss.
My biggest concern with these over-the-counter hearing aids is improperly treating hearing loss.
1. Hearing loss is not assessed: These over-the-counter hearing aids are intended for perceived mild to moderate hearing loss, but many of my new patients think that they don’t have any hearing loss until their hearing moves past a moderate hearing loss level.
Once I perform the hearing test, many of those patients not only have hearing loss, but have a severe to profound hearing loss.The reason why this happens is because it’s nearly impossible to determine the severity of your hearing loss based off your perception alone.
2. Hearing aids don’t deliver: Some of these people think, Oh, I only have a mild hearing loss, so they may go and purchase these over-the-counter hearing aids hoping for benefit. However, they’re not going to notice the benefit that they need out of these devices, because the OTC hearing aids are not designed for their severe hearing loss.
Then they may think, Oh, hearing aids just don’t work or They don’t work for me, but that can’t be further from the truth.
3. No hearing loss present: In contrast, some people think they do have a hearing loss but find they really don’t once I test them. Their hearing is actually within normal range.
They may be self-treating with these over-the-counter hearing aids, potentially causing damage to their hearing. In reality, they need appropriate medical help for their hearing sensitivity (which we offer at SLENT Hearing & Balance).
4. Health issues remain undiagnosed: Some individuals have hearing loss that is due to a hearing disorder, while others might have a unilateral hearing loss, may have suffered a sudden hearing loss, or have an undetected asymmetry in their hearing. All of these conditions require medical treatment prior to being fit with hearing aids.
They might be self-treating with these OTC hearing aids without getting the proper treatment for their disorder. This can potentially cause further health implications that go beyond just not being able to hear.
Because of all these reasons, I say that even though you can purchase over-the-counter hearing aids without a hearing test, I don’t think you should.
If You Are Considering Purchasing An OTC
Even if you think buying an OTC hearing aid is the best choice for you, it is very important that you still go to an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist to get your hearing tested and see the exact severity and possible cause of your hearing loss.
Do you have a hearing loss at all? Is it mild? Is it moderate? Is it more profound? Do you need a more specific type of hearing aid program that will directly treat your hearing loss?
A doctor of audiology is able to give you appropriate recommendations and be honest with you about how to treat your hearing loss effectively – if you have one.
They might even tell you that an OTC hearing aid is the best fit for your level of hearing ability.
Please contact us for more information on getting a full hearing assessment, OTCs, or to request a callback, and we’ll be in touch shortly.