Hearing aids will be available over the counter soon. Here’s what you need to know.

As many as 30 million Americans have some sort of hearing problem, but very few can afford to see a doctor and prescribe hearing aids — and most insurance plans don’t. According to the Food and Drug Administration, only about one in five Americans with hearing loss receive help.

FDA is now take one last step that could put more accessible and potentially less expensive hearing aids into stores in the fall. People looking to buy hearing aids will no longer have to be pre-examined by a doctor.

“As early as mid-October, Americans will be able to buy more affordable hearing aids over the counter at pharmacies and stores nationwide,” said President Biden. said in a statement.

The new rule could allow for better access to treatment. Here’s what you need to know.

The new FDA rule applies to adults 18 years of age and older with mild to moderate hearing loss. People with this type of hearing loss may have difficulty hearing conversations on the phone or in crowded places and find themselves constantly turning up the volume on the computer or TV. They may have difficulty distinguishing voices when multiple people speak at the same time or right behind each other and strain to understand people wearing masks.

“Patients say, “People are always mumbling, as long as they talk, I can understand them,” says William Shapiro, director of audiology in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at NYU Langone Health.

People with this less severe type of hearing loss may feel like they are often missing words in a conversation and often ask people to repeat themselves.

As we age, we become more susceptible to hearing loss. According to the National Institute on Deaf and Other Communication Disorders, about one-third of people in the U.S. between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss, and nearly half of people over the age of 75 have hearing loss. But “hearing loss can happen at any age, at any stage,” says Julie Honaker, an audiologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

And because our brains adapt to these losses, the onset can be gradual and insidious. Dr Frank Lin, director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said: “The joke is going on you might not know it, but everyone around you knows it. .

People with severe hearing loss may need prescription aids or other interventions. These are difficult people to hear even in quiet environments and hard to hear loud noises, like car engines or construction equipment. If you are experiencing these symptoms, or have tinnitus, hearing loss in only one ear, sudden hearing loss, dizziness, pain or discharge from your ear, you should seek medical attention instead of over-the-counter hearing aids. hearing.

The new FDA rule applies to certain types of air-conduction hearing aids worn behind or inside the ear. The FDA has added several specifications for assistive devices that will be sold over the counter, including the requirement that they have user-adjustable volume controls and a lower maximum sound output, so that people don’t accidentally over-amplify their surroundings.

People with more severe hearing loss may also be offered bone-attached hearing aids or cochlear implants, which may require surgery.

They’re expensive right now — two hearing aids can cost as much as $5,000 or more, said Barbara Kelley, executive director of the American Association of the Deaf.

But the FDA’s decision could prompt the industry to lower prices, experts say. And the new rule allows patients to receive care without an examination and a change of clothes, something insurance companies don’t usually cover. Federal officials estimate that the regulation will save people nearly $3,000 in the cost of a pair of hearing aids.

Dr. Honaker says that hearing aids are usually mild. Her patients will sometimes forget they are wearing them and accidentally jump into the shower with the assist device still on. “It’s like wearing glasses,” she said. “After a while, you’ll be adjusted.”

These devices don’t have one-size-fits-all, Ms. Kelley said. Hearing aids can vary between manufacturers, and patients can consult their doctor about how to improve the fit of the device if they buy an over-the-counter hearing aid that causes discomfort.

Just because you no longer need to go to the doctor to buy a hearing aid, “It was never either/or a recommendation,” says Dr. Lin. If you’ve tried over-the-counter hearing aids and are still experiencing symptoms of hearing loss, consider an audiologist’s evaluation.

“Don’t give up,” said Miss Kelley. “Hearing test, test.” She says hearing loss is linked to a range of comorbidities – it’s a risk factor for falls, dementia and depression. “It’s important to try something,” she said.

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