Eggs. Milk. Bread. Hearing aids. This could be the shopping list for people in Tucson with hearing loss next year, when over-the-counter hearing aids will become available. If the ability to buy hearing aids without visiting an audiologist seems like a good thing, there are sure to be some downsides.
Why Direct-to-Consumer Hearing Aids May Fall Short
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 was the brainchild of Massachusetts Senator and current presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. Her intentions were noble: to make hearing aids more affordable and readily available. To meet the criteria, hearing aids must be able to do the following:
- Provide reasonable assurances of safety and efficacy
- Establish output limits and labeling requirements
- Describe requirements for the sale of hearing aids in-person, by mail or online, without a prescription
Once the legislation passed, it was sent to the Food and Drug Administration, who were given the task of establishing guidelines to determine how to ensure the law works as intended. The FDA is set to release those rules and regulations soon—possibly as early as January—paving the way for widespread availability of OTC hearing aids beginning sometime in the summer of 2020.
There are both advantages and disadvantages of buying hearing aids over-the-counter. Your Tucson audiologist has compiled a list of both.
Over-the-counter hearing aids will give patients control over their own hearing health. They won’t have to see an audiologist and submit to a hearing exam in order to purchase hearing aids. Costs should be substantially lower; patients won’t have to worry about insurance reimbursements—an obstacle for many currently, as few health plans cover the costs of hearing aids and other hearing health care, Medicare included.
Personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are already available for retail sale; they are for all intents and purposes hearing aids, though they cannot be marketed as such. So long as they meet the FDA’s new guidelines, they are likely to be sold as hearing aids beginning next year.
OTC hearing aids will be sold with factory presets, but a one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work in this case. Hearing loss varies considerably from person to person; this is why the fitting process, which involves your audiologist fine-tuning your hearing aids so they will meet the specific demands of your hearing impairment, is such an important step.
Additionally, these devices are designed primarily for patients with mild hearing loss. A good analogy is reading glasses: these are perfectly fine if you only have trouble reading tiny print, but if you have a more severe vision impairment, you’ll need to visit an optometrist for prescription lenses. Without a through hearing examination from a professional audiologist in Tucson, you won’t know the degree of your hearing loss and might end up wasting money on hearing aids that aren’t sufficient for your needs.
And without that exam, you might be overlooking a potentially serious medical condition that is causing your hearing loss, one that could lead to more serious side effects if left untreated.
Hear the whole picture. Schedule audiology testing today.
While over-the-counter hearing aids will no doubt offer benefit to some patients, it’s crucial that you schedule an appointment with a Tucson audiologist before making a purchase.