The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared the way for the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids, making it possible for consumers to purchase these instruments without medical exams or fittings as soon as this fall. It will likely mean cost savings, but what should those with hearing issues know before buying?
Dr. Cindy Hogan, chair of the Division of Audiology and director of the Mayo Clinic Hearing Aid Program, says this move should help improve access.
Journalists: Broadcast-quality video is available in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network. Name super/GC: Cindy Hogan, Ph.D./Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery/Mayo Clinic.
"A lot of people live in rural areas or areas where they don't have any specialists who might be specialized in ears or hearing. And this is going to bring them more access because we know that a lot of rural communities have drugstores or stores where these over-the-counter devices might be sold," says Dr. Hogan.
She says it also will offer people options that are less expensive since there isn't a lot of insurance coverage for hearing aids for adults.
However, Dr. Hogan says there are also some limitations people should be aware of. The FDA decision on over-the-counter hearing aids is for adults who have perceived mild to moderate hearing loss. Dr. Hogan says that people are not always an accurate judge of their own hearing loss, which could mean that people purchasing over-the-counter devices could better manage their hearing loss another way.
"I think there will be individuals who might have a problem that they cannot diagnose themselves," says Dr. Hogan.
That's why she recommends an audiologist evaluate those considering turning to an over-the-counter option to determine if they would be a good candidate.
"I really appreciate the open access that people are going to have. However, as a trained audiologist, I believe that there's nothing that takes the place of a good hearing evaluation. And I would prefer that people will have that before we even counsel them about devices," she says.
Something else to consider is that hearing aids are not one-size-fits-all, and a hearing loss diagnosis is personalized.
"The needs of the individual really are taken into consideration when we recommend hearing aids. Because we do get a better picture of what are their communication needs and physical needs, as well as the hearing," says Dr. Hogan.
For the safety of its patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a nonpatient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.