Imagine this: You’re having dinner with friends. You know that someone just said something funny, because everyone else at the table is laughing. You’re too embarrassed to admit that you didn’t hear the joke, so you laugh along with everyone else.
For many adults, living with hearing loss is a daily struggle. But it doesn’t have to be. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has created a new category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, providing easier access to affordable, safe and effective hearing aids for millions of adults who believe they may have mild to moderate hearing loss.
More than 30 million adults in the U.S. have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss makes it harder to communicate with family and friends and can lead to isolation. Untreated hearing loss is associated with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, dementia, reduced mobility and falls.
Today, it’s simpler than ever to buy effective hearing aids that can improve your ability to talk with family and friends, communicate with physicians, and hear music, movies and TV. Adults (18 and older) who believe they have mild to moderate hearing loss can purchase OTC hearing aids without a medical exam, a prescription or a professional fitting. You can buy OTC hearing aids directly in stores or online. They typically cost less than prescription hearing aids.
Here are some other facts about OTC hearing aids:
- Research from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), shows that OTC hearing aids can be as effective as prescription hearing aids for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.
- You control the settings for OTC hearing aids yourself, and you may be able to adjust them in more ways than you could with prescription hearing aids.
- OTC hearing aids include labels with information you should know before buying, such as symptoms that indicate a more serious problem that may require treatment from a physician.
- To help the public easily identify OTC hearing aids, the devices are required to include the words “OTC” and “hearing aid” on the outside packaging.
Hearing aids can be life-changing, but only about one in four adults in the U.S. who could benefit from them has ever used them. In fact, people diagnosed with hearing loss wait, on average, nearly 10 years before obtaining hearing aids.
What are some signs that OTC hearing aids may be right for you?
- Speech or other sounds seem quiet or muffled.
- You have trouble hearing when you’re in a group, in a noisy area, on the phone, or when you can’t see who is talking.
- You have to ask others to speak more slowly or clearly, to talk louder, or to repeat what they said.
- When you watch TV or listen to music, you need to turn the volume up higher than other people.
OTC hearing aids are not for children or for adults with severe or profound hearing loss. These individuals should work directly with a hearing health care professional or a physician to address their hearing loss.
Why are OTC hearing aids now available? Experts in science, technology and hearing health care are working with researchers, health professionals and the public to find safe and effective ways to improve access to hearing health care for adults. This issue is a public health priority, especially as the number of older adults in the U.S. continues to grow. The availability of OTC hearing aids is a major step toward hearing health care that is less expensive and easier to access.
Learn more about hearing loss from NIDCD’s Adult Hearing Health Care webpage.