Receiving help with your hearing could soon be as easy as making a trip to the pharmacy. Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are expected to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration, although a timeline isn’t clear just yet. The move stands to benefit some of the more than 37 million Americans who have difficulty hearing.
The toll of hearing loss
Hearing loss can have a significant impact on a person’s social life.
“People with hearing loss often find themselves withdrawing from social environments because they find it difficult to hear and are sometimes embarrassed to ask for things to be repeated,” said Dr. Robert Treptow, Marshfield Clinic Health System audiologist.
Withdrawing from social activity can then negatively impact a person’s emotional and physical health. Studies have even shown that untreated hearing loss can accelerate the loss of brain function and increase chances of developing dementia.
How audiologists can help
Traditionally, if someone sought help with their hearing, they would visit a health care provider and see an audiologist. Audiologists identify the type and degree of hearing loss and determine the best plan of action. Treatment plans often include hearing aids, but there are also other underlying conditions that can be corrected to “cure” the hearing loss.
“Something as simple as wax in the ear could be the problem, but other times there could be a more serious problem like an infection or a tumor,” Dr. Treptow said. “The only way to determine what kind of hearing loss you have and the appropriate treatment is to have a diagnostic evaluation with an audiologist or other hearing health professional.”
The emergence of OTC hearing aids
OTC hearing aids are a new category of hearing aids that you should soon be able to buy directly, without visiting a doctor or hearing health provider. Like traditional hearing aids, they will make sounds louder to help people listen and communicate. OTC hearing aids may be less expensive and could help people who don’t have access to an audiologist. It is important to note that these devices are only intended for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. You may have mild-to-moderate hearing loss if:
- Speech or other sounds seem muffled.
- You have trouble hearing when you’re in a group, in a noisy area, on the phone, or when you can’t see who is talking.
- You have to ask others to speak more slowly or clearly, to talk louder, or to repeat what they said.
- You turn up the volume higher than other people prefer when watching TV or listening to the radio or music.
Making hearing health care more accessible and affordable is a national public health priority, especially as the number of older adults continues to grow. But Dr. Treptow says OTC hearing aids will not be the best choice for everyone.
“Obviously those who aren’t certain about the cause of their hearing loss are recommended to come to us,” Dr. Treptow said. “For others, you’ll miss out on the quality and personal care from an audiologist if you purchase an OTC product. Fitting a hearing aid to a patient often requires that personal connection to orient them to the device. Hearing aids also have routine maintenance such as cleaning and replacing parts that only a professional can help you with.”
If you have concerns about hearing loss, talk with your doctor.