The hearing aids you can get in stores will be here soon

Whether we know it or not, hearing loss can be an inevitable part of aging. About one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 has some degree of hearing loss, and about half of us will have difficulty hearing by the time we pass 75. Hearing loss can also occur in younger people who have a genetic or health problem. , or may have hearing damage from frequent exposure to loud music or noisy environments and workplaces.

It should come as no surprise, then, that a campaign to make hearing aids more accessible has been underway for years. They are not covered by most insurers, including original Medicare plans. But in August, the US Food and Drug Administration announced that its finalized rule would allow hearing aids to be sold without a prescription, without a prescription or doctor’s visit, as early as mid-October.

Federal health officials said giving people access to over-the-counter hearing aids would make them a more affordable and convenient product for the roughly 30 million American adults who need them. And while improving access to hearing health is a “phenomenal” development, there is much more to consider when someone is receiving care for hearing loss, including finding the right fit for a hearing aid. , as well as processing someone’s language and sound.

“It’s really not just the device,” said Tricia Ashby-Scabis, senior practice director of audiology at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

What types of hearing aids will be sold over the counter?

Air conduction hearing aids, which fit either in the ear canal or behind the ear, will be available for adults with “mild or moderate perceived hearing loss,” according to the FDA. According to Ashby-Scabis, air conduction hearing aids are the most common type of hearing aid and work by moving sound into the ear canal through the ear. Other types of hearing aids include cochlear implants or bone-anchored systems.

However, an exact test on how to rate your hearing loss as “mild or moderate” is unclear at this point, as over-the-counter models won’t be available for a few months. But Ashby-Scabis assumes that many hearing aid manufacturers will use a companion app that someone can use to test their hearing – others may be simpler. But the fact that people will have to decide for themselves what type of hearing loss they have (and potentially miss out on a more serious type of loss or other health problem), is one of the biggest problems with hearing aids. over-the-counter, according to Ashby-Scabis.

“It’s going to be a bit confusing for people, because how do you know what degree of hearing loss you have?”

Children and adults with severe hearing loss will always need a prescription hearing aid. Many adults who qualify for an over-the-counter hearing aid (those with mild to moderate hearing loss) will benefit from seeing an audiologist to rule out other health issues.

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Who should get an over-the-counter hearing aid?

The FDA has cleared over-the-counter hearing aids for adults with “perceived mild to moderate hearing impairment.” Ashby-Scabis says you’ll probably be a good candidate to get one over the counter if you’re just starting to notice your hearing changing. People may sound like they’re mumbling a lot, or you may find it harder to listen to people with higher-pitched voices, such as women and children.

If this is your case, you may be an excellent candidate for an over-the-counter hearing aid and you may not need further examination by an audiologist.

“It’s usually at this very early stage, when people are starting to lose some of that hearing, that I say, ‘That’s a great person to think about an over-the-counter hearing aid,'” Ashby-said Scabis.

When and where will they be available?

The FDA rule allowing the sale of certain over-the-counter hearing aids will go into effect on October 17. You can expect some pharmacies, retail stores, and online vendors to have models available then. Best Buy, for example, announced this week that it will sell hearing aids, including those made by Lexie Hearing, Eargo 6 and more.

However, don’t expect all hearing aid companies to fully embrace over-the-counter sales. Brandon Sawalich, president of hearing aid maker Starkey, said while he appreciates the FDA heeding the advice of some hearing industry players in implementing output volume limits, health Hearing is individual, and fitting someone for a hearing aid has to “be done right.” The prescription of non-specific over-the-counter models threatens user satisfaction with hearing aids, which is relatively high, despite the persistence of stigma around hearing aids.

“Hearing is healthcare,” Sawalich said, adding that a hearing aid is “not a consumer electronic device.”

Starkey will sell hearing aids over-the-counter, Sawalich said, but only at hearing clinics in a more medical setting.

A doctor examines a man's ear and fits him a hearing aid

People who are just beginning to lose their hearing are likely to be good candidates for an over-the-counter hearing aid, says Tricia Ashby-Scabis, audiologist at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

PonyWang/Getty Images

How much will they cost?

It’s too early to tell for sure, but one estimate puts the average between $600 and over $1,000 for a pair. The White House said the new FDA rule could save someone nearly $3,000 for a pair of hearing aids.

There will likely be a wide price range for over-the-counter hearing aids, similar to the variable price range for prescription hearing aids, which range from a few hundred dollars to over $5,000 for a pair, according to what you need or how many bells and whistles you would like to have with your hearing aid. So even though they are technically more affordable, they still won’t be cheap. While over-the-counter hearing aids solve an affordability problem and help people get their foot in the door for what Ashby-Scabis calls a “starter hearing aid,” price is likely to remain a barrier for some people. .

“The majority of people who can’t afford that $1,000 pair of hearing aids won’t be able to afford the $700 over-the-counter pair of hearing aids or the $500 pair of hearing aids,” she said.

What happens when hearing health is neglected?

Research shows that hearing loss can lead to mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and social isolation. Indeed, no longer being able to communicate effectively erodes much of what it means to interact with the outside world.

Being able to communicate effectively is “the ability to express yourself and receive information from other people,” Ashby-Scabis said. “That’s how we make those connections.”

And if we don’t use the part of our brain that processes information and language through hearing, it weakens over time and can even lead to cognitive problems. The fact that people are more likely to access a hearing aid in the early stages of hearing loss is perhaps the biggest benefit of over-the-counter sales, in Ashby-Scabis’ eyes. This will prevent them from going from zero to 100 and being forced to adapt and reboot the linguistic part of their brain when they have gone 10 or 15 years without being able to fully hear or communicate. Instead, they can transition as needed, hopefully a little sooner with an over-the-counter hearing aid.

“It’s almost like they’re putting their ears on an exercise routine,” Ashby-Scabis said.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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