Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are in the news again as regulators are preparing for their arrival. While they boast a lot of great benefits, there are some important points to consider when deciding if you should purchase your hearing aid through traditional channels or opt for the direct-to-consumer option.
What Is an OTC Hearing Aid?
The traditional method of getting a hearing aid requires a comprehensive hearing exam conducted by an audiologist. After helping you select a hearing aid that works well for your type and degree of hearing loss, your audiologist will program that hearing aid with the results of your hearing exam in order to meet your unique hearing needs.
In 2017 a federal law was passed that designated a new FDA-regulated category for over-the-counter hearing aids. While only approved for those with mild to moderate hearing loss over the age of 18, this law means that adults will be able to purchase hearing aids without a prescription.
The goal of this new piece of legislation was to make hearing aids more accessible to the public. Untreated hearing loss, which has been linked with increased risk of dementia, social isolation and various other mental and physical conditions, has been a growing public health problem. More than 48 million Americans have some degree or hearing loss, but only 20% are seeking treatment. Over-the-counter hearing aids could be beneficial to helping millions get this necessary treatment at a price point they can afford.
The Downside to OTC
While the idea of skipping the middleman and simply buying your hearing aids online may be appealing, it is not without some snags.
The requirement of a hearing exam before you are approved to purchase a hearing aid ensures your doctor has ruled out any other medical issues causing your loss. Hearing loss can be caused by impacted earwax, ear infections and even a tumor. Once treated, those with these conditions usually regain their ability to hear.
Hearing aids purchased from an audiologist are expertly programmed with an advanced computer program to match you unique hearing loss. Your audiologist will then go in and further fine-tune the devices to provide you with the best level of amplification. OTC hearing aids come pre-programmed with only a few options. They cannot be customized. That means you may be able to hear better when out to dinner on a slow night at Danville Harvest but carrying on a conversation in a crowded area may still be hard.
Since over-the-counter hearing aids will be available for online purchase, the repair process can be more complicated. Those with traditional hearing aids can usually walk right into their audiologist’s office to have someone look at their hearing aid; most repairs can be done while you wait.
While research on the topic is so far inconclusive, experts still recommend going through the traditional channels to treat your hearing loss.
To learn more about the benefits of visiting an audiology clinic or to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert, contact Valley Audiology today.