Brenda Lyle – Florida Today
Q: I have hearing problems. What about over the counter hearing aids?
A: According to the National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 25% of Americans aged 65 to 74 have a hearing loss significant enough to affect their daily life. Due to expense, many people wait years to address their hearing loss. Others live with hearing issues unresolved– for a lifetime. The FDA has recently allowed “over the counter” sales of hearing aids. Great, right? Well… let’s look at the pros and cons to an OTC purchase.
Is it really hearing loss?
An evaluation by an audiologist or other hearing specialist is an important first step to diagnosing hearing loss. A wax buildup, inner ear infection or other diseases can all affect hearing. Dementia can sometimes mimic hearing loss, especially if there is difficulty following conversations. A hearing professional can often diagnose the true cause of hearing loss, while an over-the-counter purchase allows the consumer to skip this important step —and self-diagnose.
Hearing aids are so expensive!
Hearing aids are not covered by traditional Medicare. But there are discount options. Veterans eligible for healthcare through the VA are eligible for free hearings aids. If you are eligible for Medicaid, you can get hearing aids. Some Medicare Advantage plans cover hearing aids with their in-network hearing providers. Hearing aid companies like Audicus will finance your purchase or offer memberships that spread out payments to fit your budget.
What should I know about OTC hearing aids?
Over the counter hearing aids are available at retailers like Walgreens, CVS and Best Buy for less than audiologist-prescribed hearing aids. 2023 prices for OTC hearing aids average around $1000-$1600, compared to the $4600 average for prescription hearing aids. These OTC hearing aids might be just as good as the prescription ones for people with mild to moderate hearing loss! The huge concern with OTC hearing aids, however, is the self-diagnosis that comes with the decision to purchase them. There are numerous situations for which OTC hearing aids are not appropriate –and can actually be unsafe.
According to Hearing Aid Specialist Jaysee Soto, owner of Altamonte Family Hearing, “Over the counter hearing aids cannot be fitted to treat a person’s loss and can only provide a ‘subjective aid’ to the consumer’s deficiency.” Importantly, some OTC products don’t have the life expectancy of a traditional hearing aid. Most prescription hearing aids last 4-5 years and include annual testing and service.
Brands? Fitting? Return policy? Customer support? Adjustments? Yes, you’ll spend less money on OTC hearing aids. But you’re on your own.
One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to AskOSP@OneSeniorPlace.com, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging.
Brenda Lyle is a Certified Care Manager and Certified Dementia Practitioner with One Senior Place, Greater Orlando.