Yes, over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are here. But are they the right solution for you?

By Tami Shea, Au.D.

New regulations in effect in the U.S. as of October 17, 2022, allow over-the-counter sale of certain types of hearing aids directly to adults age 18 or over, with no requirement for a consultation with a hearing care professional.

As one of our team of Doctors of Audiology at The ENT Center, I am excited about the new possibilities this will open for those who struggle with hearing issues. Denial of hearing loss, unawareness of hearing difficulties, misperceptions that obtaining hearing help is a complex process, and cost are all barriers that interfere with patients seeking the care they need.

Currently, most people wait 7–10 years after their initial experience of hearing loss symptoms before seeking hearing help. By releasing this new class of OTC hearing devices, the hope is that they will be a good first step to encourage people to get hearing help earlier.

However, understanding some key facts about OTC hearing aids will increase the likelihood of a good outcome that improves quality of life.

1. Not everyone is a candidate for OTC hearing aids.

Whether OTC hearing devices will be effective depends on several factors, including the type and severity of hearing issues the patient is experiencing. The FDA states those with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss are candidates for OTC hearing aids, but what does that mean? The table below provides some basic guidelines, but an evaluation by an audiologist will provide a more detailed and personalized assessment.

 

Who Is a Candidate?

You ARE a candidate for OTC hearing devices if you are age 18 or older and… You are NOT a candidate for OTC hearing devices if you…
  • Have difficulty following speech in a noisy environment, in groups, or on the phone
  • Tend to find yourself turning up the volume of your TV/radio
  • Feel tired from trying to listen
  • Struggle to follow conversations even in quiet environments
  • Feel isolated or disengaged
  • Rely primarily on lipreading to understand speech

2. Research points to better outcomes from choosing prescriptive hearing aids.

A study by researchers at Indiana University looked at outcomes of two groups of patients: one group provided with prescriptive hearing aids, and another given OTC devices. While both groups benefitted, the group using the prescriptive hearing aids reported more satisfactory experiences.

Many OTC hearing aids will be “self-fit,” meaning you can set them up through a program or a smartphone app, or they will have preset settings you can choose from. Prescriptive hearing aids are programmed by an audiologist or hearing care professional to fit your specific hearing needs. In the study referenced above, when the audiologist was involved with the follow-up care of the OTC devices or hearing aids, patient satisfaction significantly increased. More patients in the study chose to purchase their hearing aids after initially saying they would not.

 

READ MORE on the AARP website about the Indiana University findings on the benefits of prescriptive vs. OTC devices.

3. Consulting with an audiologist is still a wise choice.

As noted by the American Academy of Audiology, untreated hearing loss increases the risk of “depression, falls, and earlier onset of decline in thought processes.” With the ability of OTC devices to expand access to treatment, fewer people will need to face those risks.

It is easy to over or underestimate someone’s level of hearing difficulties, so we do encourage people to have a comprehensive hearing test performed by an audiologist to determine their specific needs. At The ENT Center, we plan to incorporate OTC hearing devices into our hearing device discussions. As the above-referenced study showed, when a hearing care professional is involved in the follow-up care, patient satisfaction significantly improves. Our goal at The ENT Center is to be a resource for knowledge and personalized care, and a center for hearing aids and related services along every step of your hearing journey.

Take the Next Step Toward Better Hearing, Better Health, and Improved Quality of Life,
REQUEST AN APPOINTMENT
for a complete evaluation by an Audiologist.
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