Over-the-counter hearing aids on the way

Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 7:08 PM CDT
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WBRC) - Big news in the hearing aid industry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is allowing prescription-free hearing aids to be sold over-the-counter. Some say this could be a difference-maker for millions of people who struggle with some level with hearing loss.

According to the National Institute on Deafness, only about 16% of the U.S. population wear a hearing aid and some 40 million people have some form of hearing loss.

Kenneth Ramay knows all too well what it’s like to live with a hearing loss.

“I just deal with it on a daily basis. I sit up front when I’m in church so I could hear the preacher better. I try to keep people on my right side I’m talking with,” said Ramay.

But that could change real soon for people like Ramay. Starting this month, over-the-counter hearing aids can be bought in retail stores, a move applauded by those in the medical and academic fields such as Dr. Marcia Hay-McCutcheon of the University of Alabama.

“Part of what I do is research rural communities to be able to increase hearing aids are incredibly expensive,” said Dr. Hay-McCutcheon.

Thousands of dollars for prescription hearing aids. Significantly less in the retail stores. But Dr. Ericka Walsh cautions potential customers to first get your hearing tested by a certified audiologist.

“That’s why it’s important to have your hearing formally tested...that way they can guide you whether an over-the-counter may be appropriate for you. I think over-the-counter are OK for those with mild to moderate hearing loss,” said Dr. Walsh.

Ramay, for one, found one of the few over-the-counter hearing aids two years ago but, according to Ramay, it soon fell apart. He paid $600 for it.

“The company I bought it from didn’t do any favors for me or replace it or nothing and it didn’t knock out the background noise,” said Ramay.

Still, Ramay thinks over time the quality of over-the-counter hearing aids will get better. He may give it another shot on the retail front, but first plans to get a real test to see where his hearing stands now.

One federal study shows that nearly one in four adults aged 65 to 74 have what it terms disabling hearing loss.

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