An Audiologist’s View about the New Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids Law

Who would think that over-the-counter (OTC) “anything” would be so controversial?  But hearing devices? Amplified hearing aids are so complicated, and their OTC approval and acceptance will go through many hoops before consumers are able to get access to more affordable amplification.

Access to over-the-counter hearing aids can open the door to affordable hearing technology for people with hearing loss. Will this help or hurt consumers in the long run?

Picture of hand holding a behind the ear hearing aid with mold

On July 12th, the US House of Representatives passed the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, the bill that would allow consumers with mild to moderate hearing losses to obtain hearing aids over-the-counter. The Senate version of that bill was passed on August 3rd. This bill, once signed by the President, will require the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to develop a new category of hearing devices for adults with possible mild to moderate losses; at least right now, that is the legislative intent. The FDA has the next 3 years to write the regulations defining these devices, and hopefully HOW consumers will have access to hearing aids.

Some major hearing consumer groups are supporting OTC hearing devices. You can check out the site for the Hearing Loss Association of America here. It’s true that hearing aids have been inaccessible to many with hearing loss because there have been minimal affordable options. Mail-order or Internet hearing aids have been available for more than 20 years. Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) have also been on the market, but they are unregulated. The Hearing Industry Association wants the FDA to limit OTC hearing aids to mild losses.

Here are some things to consider about OTC hearing devices:

  • What if someone just has earwax or maybe even a tumor?
  • Will people have to go to a doctor to get their ears checked?
  • Will consumers be required to get an accurate hearing test by a professional?
  • How will they fit in the ear?
  • Will they be too loud?
  • Who will make sure that they fit comfortably and safely?
  • When they don’t work, who takes care of them?
  • How and when will healthcare professionals and audiologists teach people how to use the hearing aids?

Patients are taught how to administer their own medications, whether injectable or oral. Shouldn’t they also be taught how to use a hearing aid?

So, while this may be an unsettling time for the hearing aid companies and professionals who serve people with hearing loss, there are possible benefits ahead, with more people finding hearing help than ever before. I want to stress how important it is to make sure that the consumer is happy but also that the OTC hearing aids are SAFE!!

Stay tuned. It’s bound to be an interesting and maybe even exciting ride!!!

Debra Trees, Au.D.

Ready to learn more about hearing loss? Check out our online course series about hearing loss here.