U.S. retailers began selling over-the-counter hearing aids on Oct. 17, 2022, a long-awaited move that some experts predict could be a game-changer in making these devices accessible and affordable. A prescription is no longer needed, nor is a visit to a doctor or even a fitting appointment with a hearing specialist.
Instead, Americans can purchase hearing aids by going online or with a single trip to the nearest pharmacy or big-box store. These aids are only for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. For these consumers, over-the-counter hearing aids clearly offer an appealing alternative.
As an otologist/neurotologist – that’s someone who specializes in the diseases of the ear – I like to say that while vision binds us to the world, hearing binds us to each other. In my practice, I see firsthand how patients with hearing loss often withdraw socially and become isolated. They don’t want to put themselves in situations where they may mishear or seem disengaged, disinterested or unintelligent. This may be why studies show hearing loss is associated with depression and cognitive impairment.
So it seems the over-the-counter hearing aids would be a great solution for patients with hearing loss, right? Less hassle and less cost – in many cases, thousands of dollars less – and more people than ever getting the help they need. But it’s not that simple. Occurring just two months after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s final ruling on the matter, over-the-counter sales of hearing aids come with caveats and even some risks.