OTC Hearing Aids Could Have Saved Me Years of Struggle

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.

Hearing help?

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.

Final Thoughts

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?

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Book: Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss

6 thoughts on “OTC Hearing Aids Could Have Saved Me Years of Struggle

  1. I’m all about making healthcare more affordable, but I have to wonder if people with mild to moderate will actually purchase OTC, set up their aids and hope they work. I’ve worn hearing aids for about 15 years and have always relied on my audiologist to fit and adjust whenever needed., including hearing tests as needed. I can now meet with her remotely for an adjustment, and I have a great app to change programs on the fly, such as TV, restaurant, etc. I love that they are Bluetooth enabled. Yes, they are more expensive but feel they are worth the expense.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      We shall soon see! I think it depends on the degree of hearing loss and situational needs. I hope people will take advantage of the new products as they become available. The sooner we treat our hearing loss, the better. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  2. My issue is that most patients do not know the degree, type or severity of their hearing loss. The phrase “mild to moderate perceived hearing loss” is loaded with assumptions. How will a patient know the type of hearing loss that they have, without getting a comprehensive audiological evaluation. The answer is simple, the won’t. After 22 years in the profession, I can most assuredly report this as a fact. What if the patient has a medical issue that will remain undiscovered, without the help of a hearing healthcare professional? That medical issue will remain untreated and further the patient’s hearing loss. Also, who is going to take care of the patient’s devices? You leave out the important part of the hearing instrument journey: a hearing healthcare professional. Who fixes the aid if it breaks? Who programs the aid if it needs tweeking? The answer is, nobody. Patients are going to spend their hard-earned money on junk, absolute junk. Then, they’ll come to a hearing healthcare professional for help and their budget will only be smaller, due to these awesome “OTC hearing aids.”

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I disagree. Quality hearing tests are available online and studies show that self-fitting comes very close to audiologist-programmed aids in mild-moderate cases. OTC HAs are not for everyone, but I believe they will fill a missing link in the hearing care puzzle for people with situational needs. When they need more, they can trade up to prescription devices.

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