While the anticipated availability in October of over-the-counter hearing aids may encourage those suffering from hearing loss to get help sooner, the first step in determining if hearing aids are appropriate is a hearing evaluation by an audiologist.
“Hearing loss is nothing to ignore. It can dramatically impact quality of life,” Jennifer Black, Au.D, manager at Carle Audiology, located at Carle Outpatient Services at The Fields, said. “Early detection of hearing loss is important because the inability to hear can contribute to social isolation, depression and in some individuals contribute toward cognitive decline or dementia,” Black said.
Kim Lerch of Champaign went through extensive testing for hearing loss as she experienced severe ringing in her ears and some hearing loss. Diagnosed with Meniere’s disease so severe, she had rare “drop attacks,” or sudden falls without loss of consciousness or neurological symptoms.
Her hearing level would fluctuate. “One day, clear as a bell, the next ringing so loud I wanted to poke an ice pick through my ear drum. It was maddening and depressing,” Lerch said. “Dr. Michael Novak of Carle told me that hearing aids were appropriate in my case. I was fitted for them and was amazed at the difference.”
An estimated 1 in 8 people in the U.S. have hearing loss, or about 30 million people, but fewer than 30 percent of adults who could benefit from hearing aids have ever tried them, Black said. Offering hearing aids for over-the-counter purchase may encourage more people to seek out help for hearing loss, but those devices are mostly for individuals with mild hearing loss, she said.
“For instance, if you have to turn up the volume on the TV or have difficulty understanding people speaking to you, over-the-counter aids may be a good solution,” Black said. However, for those with drainage, pain or wax blockage in the ear, ringing or hearing loss in one ear, or a sudden change in hearing, it is time to see an audiologist or physician, she said.
Ryan G. Porter, MD, MBA, Otolaryngology at Carle Outpatient Services at the Fields, said, “The ability to hear connects us with family, friends, and the world around us. Recent advancements in both traditional and newer implantable hearing technologies have the potential to enhance the quality of life for those with hearing loss, especially for those with severe to profound hearing loss.”
Before buying, consumers need to check the return policy as not all hearing aids for over-the-counter purchase are of equal quality and the FDA does not require over-the-counter hearing aids be returnable, Black said. The new over-the-counter option will cost approximately $1,000. A pair of prescription hearing aids may cost $2,000 to $6,000 a pair, but they are adjustable to treat varying degrees of hearing loss. Purchasers of prescription hearing aids may return them for a full refund within 60 days of the first fitting, she said.
Those wanting to purchase hearing aids should check with their insurance provider first as many plans now offer benefits that partially or fully cover the cost of hearing aids, Black said.
Read more about Carle audiology and hearing services.