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FDA pushes for OTC hearing aids; audiologists push back

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 5:10 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - People in need of hearing aids may soon be able to get the devices without the help of a doctor.

The Food and Drug Administration is considering making hearing aids available over the counter. While that change could ease the process of getting hearing aids, some audiologists say taking the doctor out of the scenario is risky.

“A lot of folks don’t realize that hearing losses vary greatly, so when you work with a hearing healthcare provider, they are prescriptively fitting devices. That really wouldn’t be the case with over the counter,” said Regina Driver, an audiologist at Blue Ridge Hearing Center.

Driver says that without a hearing healthcare provider, there wouldn’t be a special fitting process, which is a lot of what makes the hearing aid work correctly. She says that may lead to a person buying a hearing aid and being disappointed with the results.

“There would be folks who would know they have a hearing loss, purchase over-the-counter hearing aids, those hearing aids don’t work well for them, and consequently they think, ‘oh, well then there’s no help for me,’” Driver said.

On top of that, Driver says sometimes hearing loss is linked to other medical conditions, so getting a hearing aid at a store without a prescription may make it possible to easily avoid a proper diagnosis or plan of care.

“I would be concerned about folks who have either greater hearing loss or hearing loss that have more concerns than just the hearing loss, so if there is some type of medical need that is causing the hearing loss, then that may not be identified,” Driver said.

Driver says most people who are able to regain lost hearing go to a doctor for the problem.

“When we look at the actual research that’s been done for over-the-counter devices, and we see that the percentage of folks who use hearing aids successfully have been helped by a hearing healthcare provider,” Driver said.

Driver says it’s possible the devices would work with no professional interference, and she says there are reasons the FDA made this push.

“It will make it more accessible, easy to get your hands on, as well as not having a professional involved. Sure, the cost is going to be less as well,” Driver said.

There’s no set timeline for the push from the FDA. The agency says 37.5 million American adults have some level of hearing loss.

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