In 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sponsored the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act. The goal was noble: to make hearing aids more affordable and readily available. Once the law was passed, the Food & Drug Administration was tasked with establishing guidelines pertaining to their sale. Unfortunately, purchasing hearing aids directly from retailers may pose serious risks to the hearing health of many Americans.
There are benefits to buying hearing aids without a prescription: they will be priced lower, and patients will be able to advocate for themselves and won’t have to submit to an audiological exam or worry about insurance reimbursements. However, many audiologists believe the bad outweighs the good.
Over-the-counter hearing aids are designed for individuals with a very mild hearing loss, but without undergoing a comprehensive hearing evaluation from a professional audiologist, there is no way to know the degree of hearing loss. Those with severe hearing loss won’t receive the proper levels of amplification and might end up causing more harm in the long run.
Additionally, OTC hearing aids will ship with factory presets. Every case of hearing loss is unique, so the chances of finding a pair that will address a patient’s specific needs are slim. Audiologists are trained to fit hearing devices so they will provide the right levels of amplification over the proper frequencies. Even after the fitting process is completed, several adjustments are usually required before the devices are programmed just right.
Finally, without a hearing exam from an audiologist, a patient might be overlooking a serious underlying medical condition causing their hearing loss. Left untreated, this could cause long-term health problems.
OTC hearing aids are a good idea in theory, but anybody with hearing loss should schedule a visit with a qualified audiologist first.
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Act of 2017 was meant to provide hearing-impaired patients with affordable treatment solutions, but forgoing an examination by a qualified audiologist could pose serious risks to the long-term health of many Americans. Experts believe the bad outweighs the good for a variety of reasons.