"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

There are over-the-counter hearing aids, but selecting one isn’t a simple task

August 3, 2023 – Ashley Bundy realized that not everyone round her could mumble and that there needed to be another excuse she was having trouble hearing people.

At 31, Bundy is now considered one of the adults within the U.S. who've taken advantage of the supply of over-the-counter hearing aids. When she was diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing loss earlier this 12 months, she was told she might need to spend greater than $10,000 on hearing aids. After extensive research, she purchased a pair for $1,300, which she controls with an app on her phone.

“Ten thousand dollars is the price of a car,” said Bundy, who lives in Minnesota. “We shouldn't be punished for not being able to hear.”

Now that she has the devices, Bundy has realized what number of things she couldn't hear before, including the hum of the overhead lights within the ironmongery shop where she works.

But for some – especially those with more complex hearing loss – the choice to bypass the audiologist makes the method more overwhelming and confusing.

Jim Tolbert, a 67-year-old long-time hearing aid wearer, has what is usually known as “Cookie bite“Hearing loss, which means he has trouble hearing mid-frequencies between 500 and 2,000 hertz (roughly the range of human speech).

For that reason, Tolbert needs hearing aids with many different “channels,” or groups of frequencies that can be amplified as needed. The last pair he bought cost $3,700 per ear, he says, and he would like to buy cheaper ones if possible. But his attempts to gather information, mainly through social media, have been unsuccessful.

“I don't know how the programming of the over-the-counter devices works or what losses each device is designed for,” Tolbert said. “It's great that they're more available, but I haven't been able to figure it out yet.”

Given the newness of over-the-counter treatment options, Tolbert's experience is a normal one, says Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

The FDA estimates that nearly 30 million adults in the United States suffer from hearing loss, but only about 20% seek help. Many people are still unfamiliar with the products and often unsure if they should try them.

Although it's too early for definitive numbers, audiologists are reporting an increase in appointments for hearing tests and discussion of treatment options, says Dr. Catherine Palmer, former president of the American Academy of Audiology and chief of audiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Palmer said the sheer volume of products available could be a barrier. There is compelling data, Palmer said, showing that “people are overwhelmed by too many choices and therefore don't make choices,” she said. “Basically, people want choices, but not so many.”

She added that audiologists are reporting more people coming to them with hearing aids they have purchased but are unsure about how to use.

“I think this is still day one on the market,” Kelley said. “I think consumers aren't sure who these products are for. It's a different way to get supplies, but the market has yet to develop. We're just getting started.”

Dozens of companies now sell hearing aids. Many of them can connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and have apps that allow you to adjust your device. They are sold in drugstores, big box stores and online.

The greater availability and lower prices are more than just conveniences. Studies have shown time and time again that untreated hearing loss can lead to a number of health problems. A large study by the National Council on Aging linked hearing loss to stress, anger, depression, loneliness, memory loss and many other problems. The study showed that hearing loss can affect a worker's chances of getting a raise or promotion.

New research now shows that hearing aids can also help prevent dementia.

Patients with mild to moderate hearing loss, who are at higher risk for cognitive impairment, experienced a 48% slower rate of mental decline after wearing hearing aids for three years, according to a new study.

A randomized trial of nearly 1,000 adults ages 70 to 84 with untreated hearing loss – who also had dementia risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure – found that hearing aids could cut the risk of Alzheimer's and other dementias by half. It is the largest study to date on the subject.

The results, presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) 2023 and published online 17 July in The Lancetsupport the recent initiative by stakeholders and hearing experts to raise awareness of hearing loss as an often neglected public health problem.

“We typically see that it takes about five years for people to start walking again after hearing loss,” Kelly said. Hear Health is an essential part of general health. We need to protect it, take care of it and be aware of it.”

The best candidates are adults with mild to moderate hearing loss who don't require programming or adjustment of their devices and who can easily make all adjustments through phone apps.

According to the American Academy of AudiologyFDA's proposed regulations don't require hearing aids to be returnable, but they do require that device packaging include return policies. For those that haven't had their hearing tested or are unsure if over-the-counter hearing aids are right for them, it's important to decide on hearing aids that will be returned.

According to the Academy, you must not purchase over-the-counter hearing aids if you might have any of the next conditions:

  • Malformed or deformed ear since birth or resulting from trauma.
  • History of ear discharge inside the last 90 days.
  • History of sudden or rapidly progressive hearing loss inside the past 90 days.
  • Dizziness that has just occurred or has been present for a protracted time period.
  • Hearing loss in a single ear only or sudden or recent hearing loss inside the last 90 days.
  • Heavy accumulation of earwax or a foreign body within the ear canal.
  • Pain or discomfort within the ear.

Despite consumer confusion, Palmer said the simple availability of hearing aids is not less than resulting in greater consumer interest in their very own hearing health.

“Some people may start looking at over-the-counter hearing aids and then become overwhelmed and seek professional help,” Palmer said. “Others may see all these advertisements and feel motivated to get a hearing test to start the process.”