Hearing Aids Are Now Sold Over the Counter: What to Know

OOn October 17, 2017, hearing aids, which were approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) for over-the counter availability became possible for thousands of dollars cheaper than traditional prescription hearing aids. Experts believe that the opening of the market will encourage the development of new products, lower costs and increase hearing-aid usage in a country with only about 2% of hard of hearing seniors using hearing aids.

These expanded choices could have a significant impact on those who want to purchase a hearing aid. For now, experts say there’s still a lot we don’t know—including which devices will be announced in the coming months and how much prices may fluctuate on the new market. If you suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss, however, there are many options for over-the-counter hearing devices that could help make your life easier. Here’s what you need to know.

What date will the availability of over-the-counter hearing aids in stores occur?

Starting this week, you can order your first over-the counter hearing aids online or in-person from some shops, such as Walgreens.

Walmart announced on Oct. 17 that hearing aids will be available at its website, at Walmart Vision Centers in certain states (although the company plans to eventually offer these services nationwide) and at more than 400 Sam’s Club Hearing Aid Center locations.

More stores are expected to announce that they’ll be carrying over-the-counter hearing aids in the coming weeks. Best Buy announced that 300 hearing centers will be open in its stores by October 17th. Customers of Best Buy can use the online hearing test tool to assess their hearing and purchase products online.

Do I need an over-the counter hearing aid?

People with moderate to severe hearing loss should only use over-the-counter hearing aids.

People with mild or moderate hearing loss tend to have difficulty hearing when talking with people in a group or when there’s background noise, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. A sign that you need to raise the volume of your television or smartphone is another. A signal of more severe hearing loss is finding it difficult to hear when you’re having a one-on-one conversation with someone in a quiet environment. The Hearing Loss Association of America provides helpful guidance and a checklist of possible signs.

Nicholas Reed, an Johns Hopkins University audiologist, said that an audiologist could help determine the severity of your hearing loss. These hearing aid fittings are not covered by insurance, so they can be included in your insurance coverage. SonicCloud also offers apps that allow you to perform other testing. Reed suggests hearing tests as an option, since people are often unable to detect how their hearing has changed. “Hearing loss happens really slowly, really insidiously,” he says. “And the truth is, your brain is good at not picking up those kinds of changes.”

Technology-savvy people may find it easier to purchase an over-the–counter hearing aid. These devices can be fiddled with to make them fit properly, according to Dr. Catherine Palmer of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

If you’re not, Reed suggests considering bringing your over-the-counter device to an audiologist to get some help using it. “It’s easy to set yourself on the wrong path,” says Reed. “If you’re at all confused or not super tech savvy, an audiologist could help.”

How much are over-the counter hearing aids? Prescription hearing aids are also available.

There are many factors that can affect the cost of hearing aids. The cost of over-the-counter hearing aids ranges from few hundred dollars up to many thousands.

The average cost for hearing aids, which require prescriptions, is around 1,000 dollars per pair. This price may be higher if the service includes the expense of an audiologist fitting the device.

Insurance covers over-the counter hearing aids?

Medicare will not pay for hearing aids. Some Medicare Advantage plans do offer coverage. Although some private insurance companies do cover hearing aids in certain cases, not all. Check with your insurance provider to see if you’re covered under your individual plan.

Do more expensive hearing aids have a better chance of being used?

Reed says more costly hearing aids can have special features like smaller size or a user-friendly interface. Reed states that FDA approval has allowed over-the-counter aids to be sold. This means that consumers can rest assured that they are meeting a certain standard. However, less expensive hearing aids will still fit basic hearing needs for people with mild or moderate hearing loss. If you’re not that comfortable with technology, Reed says, you might even be happier with a simpler (and less pricey) device. “There’s almost no evidence that cost is related to outcomes,” says Reed.

What should I look for in an over-the counter hearing aid?

Hearing is a bit like a “fingerprint,” says Reed. That means hearing loss is a little bit different for everyone—and that hearing aids won’t work the same for everyone.

Palmer says there are two types of over-the-counter hearing aids. First, a self-fitting device that users can modify using an app on their phone. Then, they tune it through sounds by listening to the sound. To operate the other type—called a simple modifier—users can manually control volume and sometimes the bass and treble of sounds.

It’s important to buy a device with a warranty so that you can return it if the device doesn’t work for you or your lifestyle, Palmer says. “Until the person uses the device, they will not know if it will meet their needs,” she says. The FDA regulations require that the package clearly state whether the device is returnable. Reed suggests that you verify the warranty on the product. If it is, this will allow you to get help with any questions or problems.

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