Access to hearing aids is about to expand

In mid-August, the Food and Drug Administration announced the finalization of a new rule that will enable access to over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids for individuals with mild-to-moderate hearing loss – a rule that’s been a long-time coming! Federal discussion about OTC hearing aids has been happening for years, and in 2017, Congress passed legislation that would create a category of OTC hearing aids and expand access. 

While we are happy that expanded access provided by the new rule will prompt folks to seek hearing solutions sooner, there’s still some general concern across the hearing care community. So, let’s weigh some of the pros and cons of OTC hearing aids together.

What does the new FDA rule mean?

The biggest impact of the new rule is that, in milder cases of hearing loss, you no longer need a medical exam and a prescription to purchase hearing aids from online or brick-and-mortar retailers, which significantly expands access and supply of devices to consumers.

The new rule also makes some adjustments to the normal, prescription device process to increase safety when there’s not a certified professional prescribing and fitting the devices. For example, the final FDA rule lowers the maximum sound output in order to reduce the risk of making hearing loss worse from an over-amplification of sound. Additionally, the maximum insertion depth for devices was lessened, so as not to damage the delicate inner ears of individuals wearing them.

The FDA has touted that OTC hearing aid devices could be available in stores and online as early as October, so this change is taking immediate effect and is certain to shake up the hearing care industry.

Pros of OTC Hearing Aids

We won’t argue that there are tons of great advantages of the new FDA rule, and we as hearing care specialists ultimately want one thing: for folks to not only recognize but seek help for their hearing loss.  

With OTC hearing aids available in stores and online, access to devices will increase significantly, and it will be much easier for consumers to seek help on their own accord, which may help decrease the rate of untreated hearing loss in America.

The new rule is designed to not only increase access but also promote innovation in the space. While hearing aid technology has come a long way in the past few decades, there is always room for improvement and innovation in any medical field, and by making it easier for manufacturers new and old to sell devices to consumers, technology is sure to advance.

Cons of OTC Hearing Aids

As we mentioned, there are some possible risks to consider with the announcement of this new rule that must be balanced with the potential benefits. 

Without the oversight of an audiologist to prescribe hearing aids, OTC hearing aids will have a “one size fits all” approach in the market, which doesn’t consider the unique ear size and shape or even specific hearing needs of each individual wearing the devices. No two people experience hearing loss the same way, and so one size device without proper fitting and adjustment probably won’t fit all cases.

Secondarily, while individuals can probably tell if they’re experiencing hearing loss on their own, diagnosing the underlying cause requires a professional, which consumers just won’t have when purchasing hearing aid devices over the counter.

But, the most important thing to remember is that OTC hearing aids are not recommended for folks with more severe hearing loss, and OTC hearing aids are likely incapable of treating more severe cases. 

While over-the-counter hearing aids certainly mean expanded accessibility and, hopefully, a drop in rates of untreated hearing loss, experienced hearing care providers provide a lot of value to patients that an over-the-counter option probably can’t, and audiologists and hearing aid specialists aren’t going away anytime soon!

If you’re interested in learning more about the risks and benefits of OTC hearing aids and seeing how hearing aids could help you on your journey to better hearing, book a free consultation with our team at Beltone Tristate today!