Federal legislation that’s currently pending may open the door to over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids that could hit the market as early as 2020, yet it’s crucial to keep in mind these new self-fitted devices aren’t for everyone.
An analogy is that anyone can buy OTC reading glasses. Still, they don’t address differences between your eyes, refractive errors other than near vision problems, or the possibility that you have a more serious underlying eye disease. That’s why experts recommend annual eye exams from an eye care professional.
This same philosophy is true for hearing aids, except they are far more sophisticated and complex devices than reading or prescription glasses. The new OTC hearing aids only help people with mild to moderate hearing loss, and online hearing aids have limitations. Moreover, treating more severe hearing loss requires an exam by a licensed hearing care professional, careful adjustments, and regular monitoring. And even when your hearing loss is mild, you should consult a hearing care professional to ensure you haven’t overlooked a medical or health problem.
Buying hearing aids can be confusing due to the availability of many different brands and options. Keep in mind that what works for a friend or relative probably won’t work for you because hearing loss differs for everyone. Here is a brief guide to various options that are currently available.
Audiologists have a minimum of seven years of university training, a master’s or doctorate, and have performed more than a thousand hours of clinical training. Hearing aid specialist requirements differ – in some states, a special license is required, while in others, passing an exam is sufficient. Although both hearing aid specialists and audiologists are trained in hearing aid selection, fitting, and care, audiologists have the clinical training to rule out underlying medical causes of hearing loss (e.g., Meniere’s disease, genetics, ototoxic drugs, etc.)
During your first appointment, the hearing care professional will test your hearing to determine the extent and type of hearing loss, including pure tone audiometry, speech reception, and word recognition. After testing, they will help you select the best hearing aid device to fit your type and degree of hearing loss and budget. Before choosing a provider, make sure they offer a wide range of hearing aid options, styles, and price points.
Although a growing number of companies offer hearing aids online without requiring a thorough hearing test or prescription, you may end up buying hearing aids that don’t help you. In general, online hearing screenings can only verify that your hearing isn’t normal, and further testing is needed. Some online hearing aid companies offer personalized customer service via phone or online chats, but this is not the same as an audiologist examining and testing you in person. The latter is required to uncover the underlying cause of your hearing loss and perform more sophisticated tests.
Unless you live in a remote or rural area, chances are you’ll have access to multiple local hearing aid centers from which to choose. For example, Miracle-Ear has an extensive network of more than 1,500 locally owned and operated centers throughout the U.S. And, Costco has more than 750 locations across the U.S. and offers in-store hearing tests, but you need to be a member to buy devices and receive adjustments, which isn’t free. Here are a few tips:
If you are experiencing hearing problems, it’s essential to consult an audiologist and discuss strategies for improving your hearing. They will help you make informed decisions about the type and style device appropriate for your needs and also determine if a medical issue is responsible for your hearing loss. For example, your hearing loss may be temporary and caused by earwax buildup, which they can quickly treat.
It's time to finally treat your hearing loss. Sign up for a free consultation with a licensed hearing care professional today to determine if you have hearing loss. It’s the start of your journey towards better hearing.