What to consider when choosing over the counter hearing aids

The Biden administration announced Monday that hearing aids are now available over the counter without a prescription at pharmacies and big box stores. They’re intended for people 18 and older with mild to moderate hearing loss, and an expert has tips to help people make informed choices.

“The first thing that you should look for is on the boxes: Does it need another piece of equipment like a smartphone,” said Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

“Many of them will be earbuds where you adjust them with an app. And if you’re a senior, maybe you’re not comfortable doing that, or maybe you don’t have a smartphone,” she said. “So find out if there’s anything extra that you might need.”

Products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration will say “over the counter” on the box. Product boxes also should detail the return policy.

Currently, there are no FDA proposed requirements for a return policy. Devices have a “one size fits most” design, and people may need to try more than one product to find one that’s right for them.

“Hearing aids are not like eyeglasses; very often you put a pair of glasses on and your vision is corrected to 20/20,” Kelley notes. “[However,] it takes time to adjust to a hearing aid, your brain has to adjust, all the sounds are being amplified. So make sure there’s enough time to try that hearing aid and see if it works.”

Other factors to consider include:

  • Is there a free trial period, or money back returns?
  • Is it compatible for use with a cellphone or smartphone?
  • Can the amplification be adjusted?
  • How long is the battery life?
  • Is it water or sweat resistant?
  • Does it reduce or block out background or wind noise?
  • Pay attention to package warnings and see a doctor if you have pain, sudden hearing changes or dizziness.

Medicare does not cover hearing aids, but some Medicare Advantage plans do, as well as some private health insurers. It’s estimated over-the-counter hearing aids will cost $1,000 on average.

“Just be a good consumer — if something is selling for $19.99, chances are, it’s probably not a good product. And I think that’s where the market will bear out, and the good products will survive, and the poor performing products will go away. But we’re thinking price points between $300.00 and $800, under $1,000.

It’s recommended that people with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss who are considering an over the counter hearing aid purchase be evaluated first by an audiologist for a comprehensive hearing evaluation.

You can find an audiologist by ZIP code on the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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