The FDA has issued its final rule creating a new category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. This means millions of people with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss will soon benefit. As a person with hearing loss, I am very excited about the prospect for OTC hearing aids. And with the final rule now in place, we may even see devices on shelves this Fall.
OTC hearing aids will probably not work for me (my hearing loss is outside the targeted mild to moderate range) but they might have come in very handy at the start of my hearing loss journey. Easy access to safe, affordable, and effective hearing solutions for mild hearing loss could have saved me years of struggle.
My Mild Hearing Loss Deemed Too Slight to Treat
My hearing loss began in my mid-20s and at the start, it was mild. I first noticed it when I was in business school and was having trouble hearing in class. I was highly stigmatized by my hearing loss after years of watching my father hide his own, but I went to see an audiologist anyway because I needed help hearing in class.
Unfortunately, no help was offered. After my hearing test, I was told that my hearing loss was mild and that it was too slight to do anything about. The audiologist told me to monitor it and come back when it got worse. This was the perfect excuse to deny and ignore my hearing loss for many years.
This was almost 30 years ago, but I’m not sure my experience would be much different today. Still, there are not many options for people with situational hearing loss. And the solutions that exist are hard to find. Few audiologists work with patients of this type so what would a person with mild hearing loss do? An online search might turn up options, but how would they know if the seller was reputable or the device safe? And how would they know which one to choose? It is hard to compare different models when each is sold through a different website.
OTC Hearing Aids Expand the Hearing Care Landscape
OTC hearing aids will expand the hearing care landscape. Soon, people with mild to moderate hearing loss will have many safe and affordable options to choose from. And they will be able to compare them in real time at a store near them. Walgreens, CVS, Best Buy and other large chains have already announced plans to sell OTC hearing aids.
For my 26-year-old self—OTC hearing aids could have made all the difference, allowing me to deal with my situational listening needs rather than go without. And for the millions of Americans with age-related hearing loss which can often start mild to moderate, this could be a game changer.
The lower cost is also a big positive. It is hard to justify hearing help to the tune of $6000 a pair when you just need it sometimes. OTC hearing aids are a great way to meet consumers where they are now. And once they get used to hearing well, consumers will be more likely to trade up to prescription devices when they need them. I hope audiologists will embrace these consumers at all stages of their journey.
How to Learn More about OTC Hearing Aids
Much is still unknown about how the OTC devices will look or operate, but we do know they will be self-fitting meaning you won’t need to see a hearing care professional (HCP) in order to buy and set them up. You still can if you choose to, and for many people that could be helpful. I hope HCPs will welcome these new hearing aid consumers into their practices.
Get Your Information from Trusted Sources
Many audiological organizations have expressed their excitement about the ruling. As has Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), the largest non-profit in the United States representing the hearing loss consumer. Listen to HLAA Executive Director Barbara Kelley share her thoughts about the final rule with PBS here. A transcript is available at the same link.
HLAA also has a wonderful toolkit for people considering an OTC hearing aid on their website.
I have written many pieces over the years (these rules have been a long time coming!) expressing my excitement about OTC hearing aids. Take your pick below.
OTC hearing aids are not for everybody, and they don’t mean that audiologists are going away or that audiological care is any less important. But they do fill a missing piece of the hearing care puzzle. And one that I greatly needed way back when.
Readers, will you give OTC hearing aids a look?