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Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids (OTC-HA’s): Are they for me?

With a new year brings a new realm for hearing care: the over-the-counter hearing aid (OTC-HA), but how does a patient best navigate these new choices compared to traditional hearing aids?
Up until this point, traditional hearing aids have been under FDA regulation as a Class-I or Class-II medical device, and thus is required to be dispensed by a licensed hearing care professional. There are also devices available to the general public, labeled “personal sound amplification products” (PSAP’s), that are readily available in drug stores and online for purchase without a prescription or hearing evaluation.
However, it must be noted that PSAP’s are NOT intended for use to treat documented hearing loss, and are NOT to be marketed for hearing loss.

In 2017, the FDA Reauthorization Act was signed into law, which included a clause regarding a new category for hearing aids: over-the-counter hearing aids. These are designed for people with self-perceived mild hearing loss, and will be available without a prescription. The regulations for OTC HA’s must be in place by 2020, thus opening the doors for many options for consumers. The OTC HA’s are being designed to allow the user to fit, program and control the device(s) without the assistance of an Audiologist. However, the importance of an Audiologist cannot be overemphasized.

Audiologists have Masters and Doctoral-level degrees, thereby giving them the expertise needed to correctly diagnose the type and degree of hearing loss, and thus a person’s candidacy for amplification (whether that be a PSAP or traditional hearing aid). Your Audiologist can assist you in identifying the correct device, optimize the fit, program the device accurately (and verify the programming), and counsel both the patient and family on realistic expectations.

While OTC HA’s will have an appropriate purpose in our field for patients with (properly documented) mild hearing loss, working with an Audiologist in seeking those devices will remain the most appropriate option for most patients with hearing loss. Hearing loss often begins as a mild loss, but it is often progressive in-nature, and needs to be monitored and fit accordingly. Only an Audiologist can properly, and effectively, monitor and manage a person’s hearing loss.

In conclusion, OTC HA’s have the potential to be a useful addition to the wide variety of hearing care devices we offer at Total Hearing Solutions. However, they should not be seen as a replacement for the expertise of our Audiologists, but rather a tool for us to use on your hearing journey. Please feel free to contact your Total Hearing Solutions Audiologist today with any questions regarding your hearing and the most appropriate devices for you.

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