Wellness Wednesday: News on Hearing Aid Accessibility

August 22, 2022
A pharmacy lit up with rows of items.


One of our key senses gets a drugstore treatment.
In just a few weeks, for the first time ever, you'll be able to purchase hearing aids over-the-counter.
Here's What To Know.
"Hearing loss has a profound impact on daily communication, social interaction and the overall health and quality of life for millions of Americans."

FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf. Last week, the FDA approved a new rule allowing hearing aids to be sold over-the-counter (OTC) to adults ages 18 and older with "perceived" mild to moderate hearing loss, removing the need (and costs) of visiting a specialist for a prescription. According to the National Institute of Health, roughly 15% of Americans ages 18+ report "some trouble hearing," and 1 in 10 adults "could benefit from using hearing aids."

"I don't have to have a prescription for it, which means I can buy them myself and it's fantastic."

April Shrum, a 45-year-old who has never tested to a level of hearing loss that would allow her insurance to cover the cost of prescription hearing aids, though she's been wanting them for years. Prescription hearing aids can cost between $1,000 – $4,000 or more. Although OTC hearing aids are not in stores yet, the FDA estimates the new rule could decrease the cost of a pair of hearing aids by $2,800, while also allowing for more innovation in the hearing aid manufacturing market.

"Right now, five multinational companies control more than 90% of the global marketplace for hearing aids."

Dr. Frank Lin, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. An estimated about 1 in 5 Americans who need hearing aids don't get them due to factors incl. high costs and social stigma. Some predict new companies, incl. Apple, will enter the market for the OTC hearing aids. Did you know? Around 2-3 out every 1,000 kids in the U.S. "are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears" (NIH).

"Hearing loss is unique to each person, and most do not know if their condition is mild, moderate, or greater, caused by another medical issue …"

Hearing Industries Association President Kate Carr. Some experts believe OTC hearing aids will lead to confusion for consumers, and say it's still best to visit a specialist before purchasing them. Before finalizing the new rule, the FDA "reviewed more than 1,000 comments … and made a handful of changes in the final version" (NYT). This included lowering the maximum sound the aids emit.

The FDA expects over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids to reach stores as early as mid-October. The number of Americans who struggle with hearing loss is only expected to increase in the coming years. Meanwhile, some experts warn new technology that many of us likely use (such as earbuds) can be a factor in noise-induced hearing loss. To prevent this, many hearing specialists recommend the "60/60 rule" — listening to music up to 60 minutes at a time, and set at no more than 60% of a device's maximum volume level.

FDA Finalizes Historic Rule Enabling Access to Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids for Millions of Americans (U.S. Food & Drug Administration)

F.D.A. Clears Path for Hearing Aids to Be Sold Over the Counter (The New York Times)

Over-the-counter hearing aids will bring relief, but with some confusion (NPR)

Quick Statistics About Hearing (National Institute of Health; National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders)

Hearing Loss Prevalence in the US: Increasing, Undiagnosed, Undertreated (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; November 2020)

Heavy Use of Earbuds Could Trigger Noice-Induced Hearing Loss (The Chattanooga Pulse)

by Jenna Lee,