It’s official: Older Americans with hearing loss can now stroll into a big box store or pharmacy — or just visit a website — and buy hearing aids without a prescription.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved this new class of over-the-counter hearing aids in order to lower prices and improve their availability.
About one in three Americans between 65 and 74 — and half of those who are older — have hearing loss severe enough to affect their daily life, according to the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
But the American Academy of Audiology said about 70% of those who need hearing aids haven’t taken steps to manage their hearing loss.
“Hopefully, the price will come down for hearing aids so they can be more accessible to more people,” says Kathleen Cameron, senior director of the National Council on Aging’s Center for Healthy Aging. “I also hope that as a society, we look at hearing aids differently, too. I’m hoping it’s going to help reduce some of the stigma associated with wearing hearing aids and the ageism often associated with those.”
But before you go shopping for an over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid, there are some questions you should keep in mind.
How do I know if I need an OTC hearing aid?
The FDA specifically defines OTC hearing aids as medical devices intended to treat mild to moderate hearing loss in adults 18 and older. You don’t need a hearing exam or prescription to buy them, and they are designed so you can fit and tune them yourself.
- Finding that speech or other sounds regularly seem muffled.
- Having trouble hearing over background noise.
- Struggling to understand speech in a phone call, on the television, or when you can’t see who is talking.
- Regularly asking others to speak more slowly or clearly, to talk louder, or to repeat themselves.
- Getting regular complaints from family or friends that you’ve turned the sound up too loud or aren’t hearing them properly.
Hearing problems more severe than that — for example, requiring someone to speak to you loudly even in a quiet environment — likely means that your hearing loss is outside the range intended for OTC devices, according to the Council on Aging.
I don’t need to see a doctor or audiologist, but should I consult with one anyway?
There are a number of red flags that should lead you to consult your family doctor before purchasing an OTC hearing aid, experts say. These include injuries or medical problems like: