PRO AUDITION SPONSORED CONTENT In the past, prescription hearing aids were the only FDA-regulated hearing aids available on the market.
Recently, federal legislation was passed to include a new class of hearing aids to be made public, called “over the counter” (OTC) hearing aids. These products will now be available for purchase at local and online pharmacies. The purpose of over-the-counter hearing aids is to increase hearing aid availability for people with mild hearing loss. With reduced costs and convenient accessibility, the hope behind over-the-counter hearing aids is that more people with mild hearing loss will seek treatment for hearing loss sooner. Even with the intent and potential benefits of OTC hearing aids, the audiology community is divided on the subject or, at the very least, has concerns about the appropriate use of these devices.
It is true that people with milder hearing loss tend to put off seeking a hearing aid due to the high cost of hearing aids (several thousand dollars for a pair) in conjunction with the perceived benefit. Currently, research shows that people typically wait seven years after noticing hearing loss before taking action. This is due to the stigma of hearing loss, the cost of hearing technology and the misconception that mild loss is not worth treating. However, after seven years, a slight loss has the potential to become a moderate or even severe loss. This seven-year waiting period can have a negative impact on the brain, including decreased clarity of speech and cognition over time. Therefore, early treatments for hearing loss have several goals, including reducing the stigma of using hearing aids, faster treatment for better brain support, and a lower price of entry for those who find it difficult to afford traditional hearing care. That said, we still believe that the interests of patients are best served in the hands of dedicated hearing care professionals.
Hearing care professionals want people to be informed before purchasing OTC hearing products. The first thing consumers need to know when considering over-the-counter hearing aids is that they are not intended to treat moderately severe (or worse) hearing loss. Their only intended use is for mild to moderate hearing losses. OTC hearing aids can be compared to OTC glasses. For example, just as drugstore “readers” are intended for mild vision correction for reading, over-the-counter hearing aids are intended to help with mild hearing loss. For mild vision loss, OTC readers are really sufficient. However, for larger discrepancies at the ocular site or longer daily wear requirements, most consumers will require greater precision in prescription strength. This same principle applies to OTC hearing aids. When hearing loss becomes noticeable, a little extra volume is enough to improve hearing. However, as hearing loss progresses, device feedback (hissing) and speech clarity become common issues. Research on self-adjusting OTC hearing aids shows that patients most often increase the incorrect (bass) frequencies when adjusting themselves, resulting in poor hearing in background noise. By having a hearing care professional by your side (even with the use of OTC products), pitfalls can be avoided and optimal results can be achieved.
It is also important that consumers exercise caution and discretion when self-diagnosing a loss of any kind. It is good for consumers to be aware of their hearing health, however, self-diagnosis based solely on perception can be risky. This is because the perception of hearing loss is not always an accurate indicator of a person’s actual hearing loss. Therefore, it is impossible for consumers to truly identify the extent of hearing loss without a professional examination. Studies show that hearing care professionals play an important role in the success of patients with hearing aids. Even if a consumer wishes to go the OTC route, a visit to the audiologist to confirm the degree of loss will maximize the chances of success with an OTC device. Pro Hearing providers strive to exceed patient expectations and desire to prepare all patients for success with their devices. That’s why we offer a service plan for patients who need help with their OTC hearing aids!
We encourage everyone to take their hearing health seriously and urge anyone who suspects a level of hearing loss to have their hearing tested. This is the best way to confirm the presence of hearing loss and know for sure if an OTC can meet your hearing needs. If you or a loved one have hearing loss or need help with your OTC product, call us today!
Dr. Pam Matthews, Audiologist
Hearing Pro, LLC
9409 N May Avenue and 10404 S Pennsylvania Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK
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