It’s an exciting week for people with hearing loss. Over-the-counter hearing aids are now in stores—well, the first crop anyway. More options should hit stores over time, hopefully in a variety of designs, styles and with a multitude of features to meet the varying hearing needs of people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
Just like with traditional hearing aids, a one-size-fits all approach is not likely to work. Some people may be looking for all-day wear, but at a lower price point. Others may need hearing aids only situationally meaning audio clarity and ease of use may be more important than battery life. The market will eventually dictate the features that consumers want most.
Traditional and Non-Traditional Players Abound
Both traditional hearing aid manufacturers and non-traditional players like consumer electronics companies are poised to enter the market. Some may do it together. For example, Bose has partnered with Lexie Hearing to offer two styles—unfortunately neither has streaming capabilities— and Sony has joined with WS Audiology on two new products. Even Starkey, whose CEO has been the most vocally anti-OTC has plans to enter the market.
Form factors (the way the hearing aid looks) vary. Some look like traditional aids—both behind-the-ear aids and in-the-canal styles—while others look more like earbuds. Consumer demand will ultimately decide the winners and losers in this new category.
Why are OTC Hearing Aids Important?
According to the NIDCD, only 20% of people who could benefit from a hearing aid use one. Part of the reason is likely cost—traditional hearing aids can run up to $6000 a pair—and part is also likely due to stigma. People don’t always embrace their hearing challenges right away or may prefer devices that don’t look like typical hearing aids.
Another reason for low usage rates may be that people, especially those with mild-to-moderate hearing loss only require hearing assistance situationally. It’s hard to justify a multi-thousand dollar purchase if you will only use it sometimes. Lifestyle solutions like earbuds or souped-up AirPods may work best for this group over time.
Treating Hearing Loss Critical to Overall Health
Hearing loss is sometimes not taken seriously, considered a natural part of aging or something you just learn to live with. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Hearing loss can lead to depression and social withdrawal. It separates you from the people and activities you love. Treating it is of critical importance.
Hearing loss is also associated with many health issues including a higher risk of falls. Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes and highly correlated with cardiovascular disease. It is also linked to higher risks of developing dementia although, thankfully, subsequent studies indicate that addressing hearing loss can reduce these risks.
The Future for Hearing Care is Bright
The extensive media coverage has already shown one way OTC hearing aids will benefit us all—through increased attention and focus on hearing loss. But living well with hearing loss takes more than devices. Rather than excluding audiologists, I hope OTC hearing aids will inspire them to expand their practices to include more of these critical softer skills, many of which Gael Hannan and I discuss in our book Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss.
My hope is that OTC hearing aids will allow more people to do something about their hearing loss, keeping them healthier, happier and more productive. Time will tell.
Readers, are you excited for the OTC hearing aid market to begin?
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12 thoughts on “It’s Official: OTC Hearing Aids are Here”
Can you refer me to an advanced pro who is current on hyperacusis?
Thank you for your question. Here are two websites that might help with referrals. Best of luck to you! https://hyperacusisresearch.org/ and https://hyperacusis.net/who-we-are/
I’m curious if this will create any kind of financial benefit for those of us with moderate to severe hearing loss. I paid $8k for my last pair and I’m due for a new one(Only need one now as I’m completely deaf on one side now, I wasn’t the last time I got new aids.). I’ve never needed a prescription? I’ve always seen an audiologist to address my needs.
OTC hearing aids are for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss so continuing to see your audiologist is probably your best plan given your degree of loss. OTC devices could make good back-up pairs however. Thanks for your comment.
All those would do is amplify, helpful for some people maybe ,but most with hearing loss need a hearing aid fitted for their type of loss .
They would be self-fitting so people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss can adjust them to their specific loss via an online hearing test. OTC hearing aids are not for everyone, but hopefully they will be an attractive alternative for many people in the mild-to-moderate hearing loss range who might otherwise choose to do nothing about their hearing loss. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
I’m also curious what the OTC hearing aid market is going to do to the non-OTC hearing aid market. Are those of us with severe/profound hearing loss going to end up paying more for hearing aids that we still need to get from audiologists because audiologists have lost a big part of their customer base? Or might we end up paying less due to the overall competition in the market? It’s going to be interesting to see what effect all of this has on audiologists. Maybe they’ll end up with larger customer bases (people who purchase the OTC aids and need help with them). Only time will tell, I guess.
It will be interesting! I think increased competition will lower prices across all channels, but as you say, time will tell. Fingers crossed. Thank you for sharing your comment.
I have always understood that wearing a hearing aid all of the time is best because one gets used to them more quickly and can better appreciate what they can do. Also, untreated hearing loss, as you say, is related to the development of dementia and higher risk of falls. Are you saying that people with mild to moderate hearing loss need not worry about those things? Or will just wearing hearing aids some of the time suffice? I know someone who uses her hearing aids when she attends a lecture, but turns up the TV at home, where she doesn’t wear them. Of course no one can police what people do, but do audiologists to your knowledge commonly recommend that clients wear hearing aids part of the time?
Great question! It is definitely better to wear hearing aids all the time for all the reasons that you mention. The OTC hearing aids will likely appeal to people who are not ready (for whatever reason) for a full-fledged device. In my view, some of the time is better than none of the time, but certainly all of the time (when needed) is best. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.