Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids Provide New Options for Hearing Loss

Carter Ross

Diminished hearing capacity is something many of us will experience as we age. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have difficulty hearing and that rises to nearly half of all people over 75.

Late in 2022, the Food and Drug Administration finalized rules for a new class of assistive hearing devices that can be purchased over the counter without a prescription. The goal is to improve access to hearing aids, to lower costs, and to spur innovation. The National Council on Aging reports that OTC hearing aids cost on average $3,000 less than prescription hearing aids.

Already companies known for their Bluetooth headsets and headphones like Jabra and Sony are coming to market with OTC hearing aids, as are traditional hearing aid manufacturers like Audien and Eargo. These devices are starting to appear at drugstores like CVS and Walgreens, as well as big-box stores like Costco.

Russell Misheloff, president emeritus of the D.C. Chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America, recently gave a talk about OTC hearing aids. He noted that a wide range of new products are coming to market, and while they are all FDA-approved, they have different features and capabilities, so careful consideration is warranted.

The biggest consideration, Misheloff noted, is how comfortable you are in managing the devices. “Over-the-counter hearing aids are designed to be set up and adjusted by the user. Often there is a smartphone app or software included with the device, but some additional support may be necessary, and you won't get that before the purchase.”

He recommends educating yourself about the features and capabilities of OTC hearing aids before purchase, as well as being sure you understand the manufacturer and retailer’s warranty and return policies. “There is certainly a very good possibility that [an OTC hearing aid] isn't going to work for you. That you're going to want to try something else.”

Despite the cautions, Misheloff said the introduction of OTC hearing aids is overall a good thing because it makes getting appropriate treatment for hearing loss easier.

That said, OTC hearing aids are designed for people with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss, and some users will continue to be best served by an audiologist who can prescribe traditional hearing aids. In cases of sudden hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo, ear pain, or discharge from the ears, medical attention is required.

Self-diagnosis of the severity of hearing loss can be tricky. There are online and smartphone-based hearing tests that can help in gauging hearing loss, but the American Academy of Audiology suggests that if you answer “yes” to the three following questions, you probably have mild to moderate hearing loss:

  1. Can you hear easily in quiet, one-on-one situations?
  2. Are specific situations where you think wearing an OTC hearing aid would help?
  3. Does turning up the volume on the phone or TV slightly help you (even if others consider it “too loud”)?

Some people may prefer to consult with an audiologist, even if they are planning to purchase OTC hearing aids, to ensure they get an accurate assessment of their hearing loss. While audiologists have traditionally worked with prescription hearing aids, Misheloff said he thinks some will being providing support for patients who choose OTC hearing aids.

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