Photo credit: Anna Tarazevich

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The New York Times recently reported on the current status of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, which have now been available for a year. The Times article may be behind a paywall, so I’ll summarize what health reporter Paula Span wrote. First, the OTC hearing aid market remains chaotic. Most older consumers, who were the intended beneficiaries of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s new rule, appear to be unable to afford the hearing aids or are unwilling to buy them. That may change as people become more familiar with the OTC hearing aids (now available at many Best Buy stores), and as more large companies start to sell the product.

Second, making hearing aids available to older people who need them is probably of greater importance now because recent research showed that providing hearing aids reduced cognitive decline in high risk patients. Third, some experts object to emphasizing the connection between hearing loss and dementia, because it may discourage people with hearing loss from seeking help due to the stigma of dementia. One expert noted that enabling greater social interaction, which hearing aids can do, is an excellent reason to promote hearing aid use.

I’m not surprised by Span’s reporting. Many people are reluctant to try something new, and that’s probably even more true for older people. When it comes to hearing loss and wearing hearing aids, the stigma of hearing loss is also a factor in acknowledging the problem. Even though another recent study showed no difference in the hearing of patients just given an OTC hearing aid compared to those who had the OTC device fitted by an audiologist, Span reports that in real life, older people can’t adjust the hearing aids properly. A recent article in The Hearing Journal reported that audiologists don’t foresee any change in their practices from the availability of OTC hearing aids.

My focus isn’t on treatment of hearing loss but instead on preventing the development of hearing loss and two other auditory disorders, tinnitus and hyperacusis. Prevention is easy and inexpensive. Even for those who already have hearing loss, reducing noise exposure may help preserve whatever hearing they have left. Avoid loud noise, turn down the volume or use hearing protection. Because if it sounds loud, it’s too loud and your auditory health is at risk.

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