Say What? You Can Now Buy Hearing Aids Over the Counter and Without a Prescription

Getting help for hearing loss is easier than ever.
Getting help for hearing loss is easier than ever. / Gannet77/E+ via Getty Images

If you sometimes find yourself asking someone to repeat themselves or have trouble making out sounds, new action by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration might be worth hearing about. The agency has recently approved hearing aids that can be sold over the counter (OTC) without a prescription.

According to the Associated Press, hearing aids went OTC in October and can benefit adults 18 and over with mild to moderate hearing loss. (Think turning up the volume on your television past what other people deem acceptable, finding voices sound muffled, or having trouble listening to a person in a group setting.) The opportunity is especially helpful for those without insurance, as the prices for such devices can be thousands of dollars lower than prescription models and don’t require the sign-off of a specialist.

One Walmart model sells for $200 and can be purchased after a simple hearing test performed at the retailer’s hearing centers. Another model can be had for $799 at Walgreens stores. You can also head to Best Buy, which is making hearing tests available in stores along with the equipment.

It’s important to make sure the device is labeled OTC, as some products labeled helpful for hearing (sometimes referred to as personal sound amplification products) might not be FDA-approved. Loss accompanied by signs of infection or illness should be evaluated by a doctor. If hearing loss is more severe, then it’s wise to see a specialist for more focused treatment options.

“A successful hearing aid fitting is so much more than the equipment," Hadassah Kupfer, a doctor of audiology and adjunct professor at the City University of New York, told the National Council on Aging (NCOA). “Just like glasses are not a one-size-fits-all solution, hearing aids also operate using a prescription in which they are tuned pitch by pitch based on your hearing test results. Even if the OTC devices can be adjusted generally for bass and treble, a person will be missing out on the unique prescription that would help them hear at their max potential."

With over-the-counter aids, Kupfer said, “[There] is no opportunity for professional sizing, custom earpieces, counseling on proper use and maintenance, or follow-up fine tuning. So a person may be discouraged when they do not have the successful outcome they were hoping for, and come to the [incorrect] conclusion hearing aids don’t work for them.”

The ease of purchase, however, might spur those with hearing loss to address their issue. According to the NCOA, 25 percent of Americans aged 65 to 74 have hearing loss that interferes with daily living. The FDA estimates only 20 percent of those with loss seek treatment, while the NCOA says that people can wait up to 10 years after the first signs of loss before getting help.

[h/t Associated Press]