On August 16th, the Food and Drug Administration released its final ruling that establishes a regulatory category for over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. This means that you will begin to see low-cost hearing aids sold in retail stores like Walgreens, Walmart, and Best Buy as early as mid-October, 2022. The hope is that greater accessibility to hearing devices will encourage more people to treat their hearing loss early. OTC hearing aids will be available to adults aged 18 and older who have mild to moderate hearing loss. They are not appropriate for moderate or severe degrees of hearing loss. I think of OTC hearing aids for hearing loss correction like readers are for vision correction. They might work fine for those who need just a little help in certain situations. But for people with more severe degrees of hearing loss and those who struggle in noisy environments, professionally-fit hearing aids will still be necessary for optimal hearing and communication.
Of course, as an audiologist, I certainly want all people with hearing loss to have access to early and appropriate treatment. This is why I donate so much time and money to our non-profit organization. However, I do have serious concerns about people being allowed to self-diagnose their degree of hearing loss and self-fit hearing devices.
-Minor medical conditions such as earwax impaction and middle ear infections may be missed.
-Rare but serious medical conditions such as Meniere’s Disease and tumors on the hearing nerve may be missed.
-I’m scared of the very real possibility that people will hate their OTC hearing aids because they weren’t fit properly and because they didn’t receive the education and care that is so critical to a successful hearing loss treatment plan. I’m afraid that their disappointment with the OTC devices will make them think that all hearing aids fit and sound that way so the devices will sit in a dresser drawer and those people will wait even longer to seek out appropriate professional treatment for their hearing loss.
-OTC devices will be “adjusted” through the owner’s smartphone, so hearing care providers do not have control over the programming like we do with traditional (prescriptive) hearing aids. Current industry reports by MarkeTrak 10* showed that “Hearing aid owners almost unanimously agree that the hearing care professional they worked with played a substantial role in their journey with satisfaction rates at 94%.” This supports our belief that traditional (prescriptive) hearing aids, along with professional care, give patients the best path to a happy and successful experience.
I encourage you to read THIS FANTASTIC DOCUMENT that answers some frequently asked questions about OTC hearing aids, and to share this newsletter with your friends and family members who might be wondering about them too.
We Will Offer Professional Care for Those with Over-the Counter Hearing Aid Devices
We feel so strongly about the importance of people receiving professional care with ANY hearing device, that we will be offering a $400/year “Adoption Service Plan” to those who purchase OTC hearing aids. It is the same price as our Extended Service Plan that is available to all of you once your original service plan has expired. This will cover 3 visits per year and include an annual hearing test, real-ear verification measures, cleaning of the devices, and moisture removal with our new Redux drying system (more details on that in next month’s newsletter!).
* Carr, K. (2020). 20Q: Consumer insights on hearing aids, PSAPs, OTC devices, and more from MarkeTrak 10. AudiologyOnline, Article 26648. Retrieved from www.audiologyonline.com.