The Hidden Cost of Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

Purchasing OTC hearing aids online

Over-the-counter hearing aids may be on the horizon if proposed legislation, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), passes.  The legislation, currently in discussion on Capitol Hill, would approve the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These alternatives to traditional hearing aids available through an audiologist or hearing aid provider may be less expensive, but what is the hidden cost?

Quality hearing care and hearing loss treatment involves more than just a plug and play device.  Hearing health care professionals provide an expert diagnosis and treatment tailored to each individual’s needs and lifestyle.  In fact, according to a recent study, working with a hearing care provider can make all the difference in satisfaction after purchasing a hearing aid and experts in the field of audiology warn that approval of over-the-counter hearing aids will carry a far greater hidden cost than proponents are willing to admit.

The Trouble with Self Diagnosis

The ability to hear is anything but simple. The outer ear, middle ear, inner ear and brain all play complex roles in the process and hearing loss, tinnitus and other issues with hearing can be just as complex. The FDA has specified that if over-the-counter hearing aids are approved, there will be no mandatory hearing test or expert advice consultation. Experts warn that without diagnosis by a professional, consumers could be putting their hearing ability at further risk either from inadequate treatment such as hearing aids that don’t address the real problem or aren’t strong enough or hearing aids that are too powerful for the level hearing loss.

In a recent pilot study aimed at exploring the use of over-the-counter hearing aids further, Dr. Thomas Tedeschi found that “individuals have difficulty self-assessing their hearing loss. We found individuals who had normal hearing thinking they had a loss, individuals not able to tell if their loss was monaural or binaural and individuals who thought they had mild loss who in reality had a moderate loss.”

Lack of Professional Guidance

Working with an audiologist, hearing aid provider or other hearing health care provider to find a hearing aid includes a variety of services to uncover the best solution.

  • There is a comprehensive hearing test to determine level and type of hearing loss as well as underlying factors and concerns.
  • Guidance to determine the type and features needed in a hearing aid is part of the process
  • An initial fitting for best results and comfort
  • Counseling on how to use hearing aid for best results daily as well as using and maintaining them for the long term

This one-on-one guidance and care is not part of the package with over-the-counter hearing aids.

Long Term Care Not Included

Traditional hearing aids purchased through a hearing care provider are not a one size fits all, one and done deal.  Professionally purchased hearing aids include long term care that can protect both your investment and your hearing.  This care often includes fitting adjustments, any needed repairs, regular hearing tests to help manage and prevent further hearing loss.  This regular care is vital for detecting changes it hearing that may indicate a new issue or point to lifestyle factors that can be addressed.  This type of long term care is not included with the proposed over-the-counter hearing aids.

There is no doubt that hearing aids can help millions of Americans with hearing loss.  Larry Humes, PhD, CCC-A, a distinguished professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington and author of the recent research mentioned above, sums it up well, saying, “The research findings provide firm evidence that hearing aids do, in fact, provide significant benefit to older adults. This is important because, even though millions of Americans have hearing loss, there has been an absence of rigorous clinical research that has demonstrated clear benefits provided by hearing aids to older adults.”

The doubt lies in the safety and effectiveness of over-the-counter hearing aids available without the expert care and guidance of a hearing health care provider. Don’t be fooled by an upfront price tag. Consider the hidden cost of over-the-counter hearing aids before you buy.

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