Hearing aids: what to know before buying over the counter


The high cost of hearing aids has long been an obstacle for many people with hearing problems. Traditional prescription hearing aids cost an average of $2,000 per ear, and many people need two of them.

But a rule change by the US Food and Drug Administration in August means that people with mild to moderate hearing loss will be able to buy these devices online or in stores without a prescription – and at a lower price – starting October 17.

This means that people will not have to visit a hearing health professional and have a custom fitting, a process that can be cost prohibitive.

Tens of millions of people have hearing loss, but only about 16% of them use a hearing aid, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said in the agency’s August 16 announcement, “Today’s action will not only help adults with mild to moderate hearing loss access innovative and affordable manufacturing options, but we hope it will unleash the power of American industry to influence the world to improve technology. in a way that will impact the enormous burden of disability caused by hearing loss.”

Here, Dr. Frank Lin, director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Dr. Lindsay Creed of the American Speech Hearing Association offer advice on what to consider when buying. headphones on the counter.

Lin and Creed recommend getting a hearing test before going to the store. Hearing tests measure a person’s level of sensitivity to sound. Creed said a hearing test can determine whether your hearing loss is caused by a condition that doesn’t require a hearing aid, such as wax buildup.

“It would be helpful to know exactly what your hearing level is because research actually suggests that individuals are not great at accurately determining their hearing loss levels. Younger people tend to overestimate their hearing loss, while older people tend to underestimate their hearing loss. ” Creed said. Testing will give you the most accurate results when shopping.

Knowing your hearing number is just as important as any other health data, Lin said, such as blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol.

There are several options for free or low-cost hearing tests, including hearing centers at stores like Costco or Sam’s Club, as well as online tests recommended by audiologists. Stores like Best Buy will offer online auditions.

Many hearing aid manufacturers offer their own tests to help customers with ease of use and accuracy.

Creed recommends looking for tests backed by research and data.

“I always feel that knowledge is power. If you want to start with the most information and then make the best decision regarding the most appropriate technology, it’s still a good idea to start with those professionals,” he said.

Testing will help you choose the product that best suits your needs.

You’ll find headphones on drugstore and department store shelves, online, and even in tech stores. Walgreens, Walmart and Best Buy are some of the places where customers can expect to find these devices.

But there are a few things to keep in mind when shopping.

Creed says the return policy is key and advises customers to make sure the product they buy has one. The new FDA regulations state that the return policy for over-the-counter hearing aids must be clearly stated on the packaging, but return policies are up to the stores.

Best Buy plans to offer an extensive 60-day return policy, for example, Walgreens gives people 45 days to try out products.

Additionally, the FDA recommends checking a product’s warranty and whether it covers maintenance and repairs, as well as whether you can get a loaner pair to use on the repair.

When purchasing hearing aids, Creed recommends looking for the words “OTC Hearing Aid” on the package. This is part of FDA regulations to ensure that people are getting a real hearing aid, rather than another type of device such as a recreational hearing amplifier. Hearing amplifiers amplify all sounds, but hearing aids are customized to fit the individual’s hearing needs.

Hearing aids sold on October 17 will be regulated, but hearing amplifiers are not. The FDA considers hearing aids to be medical devices, but hearing amplifiers are considered consumer electronics. If the product does not say “OTC or over-the-counter hearing aid” on the main screen, it is not an FDA-regulated hearing aid.

“I think, fortunately, the way the FDA crafted the language, the regulations are very well thought out,” Lin said. “Essentially, they will need to make an informed decision to provide information to consumers, while creating performance characteristics to ensure that a device on the market will be truly safe and effective.”

Creed urges anyone with questions to contact an audiologist for guidance.

Prescription hearing aids will be a great choice for thousands of people who are in the mild to moderate stages of their hearing journey, but for some with more severe hearing loss, prescription hearing aids are still the best choice. the only option Those under 18 will also need a prescription.

“We anticipate that there will be some differences in the devices because it would not be profitable for manufacturers to sell their high-end technology at these prices,” Creed said. “So they’re probably going to be on par with early-stage hearing aids in the prescription market.”

It may not have the maximum volume of a recipe model and may not have the same level of customization or personalization. The OTC devices will also be smoother in volume and have output levels set by the FDA.

“Because the FDA came out with these very well-thought-out rules, they’re a constituency that really benefits … more than 90 percent of people with hearing loss,” Lin said.

For those with severe hearing loss, Lin and Creed recommend seeing an audiologist, even choosing over-the-counter hearing aids for a personalized recommendation. But some will need a customizable recipe option.

“It’s going to be the wild west for another year or two, and that’s good, because I think there’s going to be a lot of testing of different types of technology and marketplaces to see what sticks, what meets the consumer where they are, which has never happened before,” Lin said. ek.

He believes the FDA’s move to approve hearing aids will boost innovation as big tech companies enter the market.

Lin says audiologists will also begin to change their models, perhaps taking a more hands-on approach to guiding patients to the right over-the-counter hearing aids and assisting with customization.

Creed notes that while they’re much more expensive and more readily available than prescription versions, they’re not cheap.

“There’s a lot of research going on using community health workers and using community health workers to see if more amplifier-type devices can be adapted,” Creed said, “And so I think there’s still a lot of work to be done in this space.”