Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the over-the-counter sale of hearing aids. For those who have been frustrated by the costs associated with hearing loss treatment, this comes as big and welcome news. With this new situation, we will likely see some major changes in the hearing aid industry.
Why Prescriptions Were Required
For decades, patients have been required to have a prescription to purchase hearing aids. This is because a set of hearing aids can amplify sounds to levels that would be dangerous for a person who does not have hearing loss, or who does not have severe-enough hearing loss for the fitment of the hearing aids they receive. And up to now, it would have been quite difficult for someone to adjust their fitment to such a degree of accuracy that their hearing aids would provide the needed amount of amplification without causing additional harm to their hearing.
The Costs of Hearing Aids
At the same time, hearing aids have represented a significant expense—one that is usually not covered by private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. Largely for that reason, about four out of five people who should wear hearing aids are not currently wearing them. Currently, a set of properly-fitted hearing aids can cost between $1,000–7,000. OTC hearing aids are likely to cost less than $2,000.
Treatment Is of Paramount Importance
The medical community is increasingly aware of the significant problems associated with untreated hearing loss. Common outcomes include depression, social isolation, and even earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia. The World Health Organization (WHO) puts the hearing loss at the top of its list of twelve modifiable risk factors in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The costs that untreated hearing loss exacts on our quality of life are simply unacceptable.
Are OTC Hearing Aids Right for You?
OTC hearing aids are expected to bring the benefits of hearing loss treatment to more people than ever before, but there are a few caveats to be aware of.
Not all hearing loss requires treatment with hearing aids. Sometimes something as simple as impacted earwax can cause hearing loss, and when the blockage is removed, hearing is restored. It would be a shame for a person to wear hearing aids simply because they have an earwax buildup! An audiologist or hearing care provider will check your ears to make sure there is no blockage, eardrum perforation, or other complex condition that could be cured before they recommend a set of hearing aids.
OTC hearing aids should not be used by those under the age of 18, or with greater-than-moderate hearing loss. As a general rule of thumb, if you experience the majority of your hearing issues in noisy group contexts, but you’re able to understand speech easily in a quiet, one-on-one setting, OTC hearing aids may be a good option for now. They can help you hear when you most need assistance and give you an idea of what prescription hearing aids can do. When it comes to treating hearing loss, earlier is better, and OTC hearing aids are much better than no hearing aids at all!
If you are not sure about the degree of your hearing loss, you should schedule an appointment for a hearing test and find out. Even if you purchase OTC hearing aids afterward, having a better idea of the treatment you require will help you understand whether the fitment of your hearing aids is appropriate, so you can ensure that you are not over- or under-amplifying for your individual needs.
Who Should Not Wear OTC Hearing Aids?
- Those with unilateral (one-sided) hearing loss
- Those whose hearing loss has recently come on very suddenly. (See your doctor immediately if you have sudden hearing loss.)
- Those with tinnitus
- Those who may have acquired their hearing loss due to medication
- Those who have received chemotherapy or radiation in the head and neck area
- Those with pain in their ears
- Those with frequent dizziness
Hearing Aids and the “Adjustment Period”
Hearing loss treatment is not typically a “set it and forget it” proposition. Hearing aids come with an adjustment period, which is typically longer depending on the severity of the hearing loss when a patient starts wearing them. Throughout the adjustment period, an audiologist or hearing care provider works closely with their patient to ensure that their hearing aids are comfortable, yet provide the amplification required. This can involve several fitment adjustments during the initial period of wear.
The rates at which new wearers will successfully adapt to OTC hearing aids remain to be seen. This change in hearing care availability is an experiment. For those who do try out a set of OTC hearing aids and find themselves dissatisfied, we would encourage you to visit your nearest hearing care provider. It may be that a professional fitment or cleaning may do the trick, or it may be that your particular hearing loss comes with needs that cannot be met by OTC hearing aids.
However you decide to pursue hearing loss treatment, the important thing is to pursue it. Don’t let untreated hearing loss control your life. And if you’re due for a hearing test, make an appointment today with our team at Altamonte Family Hearing, and find out if hearing loss treatment is right for you.