Hearing Aids: Coming to a Mall Near You

Imagine being able to grab a hearing aid along with clothes, shoes, cookies and other goodies from your local shopping mall. As far-fetched as this may sound it is a reality. The purchase of over the counter amplification products is now a cost-cutting dream come true. But just how good of a dream is unclear. Although these products do offer significant convenience and savings, there are concerns. Chief among these is the issue of self-diagnosing oneself and running the risk of overlooking a serious audiological problem.
The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medical devices, does not allow selling hearing aids over the counter. To get around this, manufacturers market the devices as personal sound amplification products or PSAPs. The price range of these products can be anywhere between $250 to $350. A great deal if one considers that the cost of hearing aids can cost up to $6,000 and are usually not covered by Medicare or private insurance companies. PSAPs, marketed for individuals with normal hearing who want to amplify sounds such as music or nature, vary in their quality. There is no simple method for a customer to figure out which device works best for their needs and many hearing loss advocates believe this type of marketing prevents those with mild to moderate hearing loss from having knowledge about the devices.
A problem involves the complexity of hearing loss. Consumers will have a difficult time self-treating themselves. Over the counter purchased hearing aids prevent individuals from benefitting from skills that audiologists teach them. Skills such as lip reading and distinguishing high-frequency sounds which benefit the hearing impaired will go untaught. Relying on a self-diagnosis may lead to worsening of undiagnosed problems by using a cheap aid that does not address the real problem. Undiagnosed hearing and balance problems may be an earwax buildup or a serious problem such as otitis media, cholesteatoma, otosclerosis, Meniere’s disease, and acoustic neuroma. Treating the symptom with an over-the-counter purchase is not enough. Audiologists can diagnose and treat the underlying problem with skill and a variety of tools at their disposal.
A consumer group, the Hearing Loss Association of America, feels that Congress should create a category of hearing aids aimed at people with mild to moderate hearing loss. This legislation, known as the Over-the-Counter Hearing Act of 2017 will direct the FDA in constructing a set of safety and effectiveness standards for these new hearing devices.
Please remember that good hearing health is dependent upon a proper hearing evaluation. Hearing care must include an evaluation and treatment of the hearing and balance functions of the audio-vestibular system. This type of care, provided by an audiologist who uses professional skills to evaluate and treat hearing disorders, is the only way to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment regimen. Benjamin Franklin once said, “ the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” Please consider this sage advice when purchasing a hearing aid.


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