Life just got a little bit easier for people with hearing loss. Previously, you had to rely on a licensed physician to get hearing aids, which involved medical or audiological examinations. However, a new rule enables you to buy over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids as easily as a nasal spray or reading glasses.
You can thank Congress for passing the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017. This August, the FDA finalized this historic ruling, which means millions of Americans can get hearing aids more easily. No longer will you have to jump through hoops or come up with creative solutions, like turning your AirPods into makeshift hearing aids.
In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know. First, we’ll go into more detail about the ruling. Then, we’ll tell you how to get OTC hearing aids and the complications you need to know about.
Here’s the backstory
As of Oct. 17, 2022, American retailers began selling over-the-counter hearing aids. So if you have mild to moderate hearing issues, you no longer need to visit the doctor, get a prescription or schedule a fitting appointment with a hearing specialist. This could help 90% of the population with hearing loss.
Many health experts say this is a step towards a more accessible and affordable future for people who need hearing aids. Data from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reveals how beneficial this new law could be.
The institute found that 28.8 million American adults could benefit from hearing aids. However, only 16% of people with hearing loss use a device that helps them hear.
This may be because they’re so expensive. A 2020 study from JAMA, a medical journal, found that many people had to spend at least $4,000 out of pocket for hearing aids in both ears.
This could all change now. Although you shouldn’t get too excited since most Medicare plans won’t pay for your hearing aids, this law has emboldened tech companies to sell more affordable devices that help you hear.
How to get OTC hearing aids
You can now buy direct-to-consumer (DTC) hearing aids from online manufacturers like Eargo, Lexie, Audien and Audicus.
Here are a few examples. You can grab them now on Amazon:
These are just a few of the many available hearing devices out there. Now that the FDA ruling is in effect, traditional manufacturers should begin selling more affordable hearing aids.
Hearing aids will be available soon at Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Best Buy and Hy-Vee. You could get some models for as little as $200 a pair. Bottom line: if you need hearing aids, you can buy them online or go to your nearest pharmacy. However, if you’re under 18, you’ll still need a prescription.
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Pros and cons
Aside from affordability, there are a few other benefits to buying OTC hearing aids. You might buy a model with a smartphone app you can use to tweak your device’s volume or settings. Then again, you might buy from a brand that lets you remotely evaluate your hearing with an audiologist.
However, there are a few drawbacks you should be aware of. For instance, OTC hearing aids are self-fitting. So they might not fit as correctly as prescription options. If you value a custom fit, it’s best to go to an audiologist.
Furthermore, hearing aids you can buy from the store tend to have fewer features than ones you can get with a prescription. They might come with shorter warranties, as well.
This can be an issue since it can take up to four weeks to determine whether or not a pair of hearing aids are right for you. Lastly, OTC hearing aids aren’t designed to treat hearing loss from injuries or underlying medical conditions.
More drawbacks to keep in mind
Remember, there are still times when it’s best to talk to a hearing care professional. According to the FDA, an in-person evaluation is ideal if you have these symptoms:
- Visible deformities of the ear since birth or from injury.
- Fluid, pus, or blood coming out of the ear within the previous three months.
- Sudden, quickly worsening, or fluctuating hearing loss within the last three months.
- Hearing loss in only one ear or a significant difference in hearing between ears.
- Ear wax build-up or feeling that something is in the ear canal.
- Pain or discomfort in the ear.
- Tinnitus or ringing in one or both of your ears.
Do any of these issues sound familiar? In that case, you might want to follow the FDA’s advice and get an evaluation from a licensed expert. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
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