Champaign, Ill. (WCIA)

Starting in mid-October, retail sales of over-the-counter hearing aids are expected following approval of the FDA. While that offers up opportunities for those needing help, there are a few other considerations. Today, we welcome Jennifer Black, manager of the Audiology Department at Carle Outpatient Services at The Fields, to spell out some facts regarding hearing loss. Jennifer has been an audiologist for 38 years and manager of the Audiology and Hearing Services department’s at Carle since 1987.

Jennifer, can you provide an overview of just how serious hearing loss is?
• It is estimated that 1 in 8 people in the US have hearing loss, or about 30 million.
• Among adults who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than 30% have ever tried them.
• While there are many factors that may prevent an individual from seeking treatment, untreated hearing loss contributes to cognitive decline (dementia), social isolation, depression, and hearing loss can dramatically impact quality of life.
• So, early detection and treatment of hearing loss is important.

How can the advent of Over-The-Counter Hearing aids help?
• Reducing barriers may encourage more people to seek out help for their hearing loss.
• Really are only for those with mild hearing loss.
• If you have to turn up the volume of the TV, have difficulty understanding people wearing masks, over-the-counter hearing aids may be a good solution.
• Unlike vision changes which require new lenses, prescription hearing aids can be reprogrammed to account for any changes in hearing.

Who should avoid making the purchase of over-the-counter aids?
• Those with drainage, pain or wax blockage in the ear
• Ringing or hearing loss in one ear
• Sudden change in hearing
• If you have any of these symptoms, it is time to see an audiologist or physician.

What are the costs associated with over-the-counter hearing aids and prescription hearing aids?
• It is estimated that over-the-counter hearing aids will cost around $1,000 a pair.
• Prescription hearing aids, which are programmed to treat all different degrees of hearing loss, can cost between $2,000-$6,000/pair.
• Prescription hearing aids can be reprogrammed to account for any changes in your hearing, whereas over the counter hearing aids cannot.
• Many health insurance plans now have hearing aid benefits that either partially or fully cover the cost of hearing aids. Check with your insurance provider.

Can hearing aids be returned if they do not work correctly?
• The FDA does not require OTC hearing aids be returnable.
• Not all OTC hearing aids will be created equally so it is important for consumers to have the option to return hearing aids. Check the OTC hearing aid return policy before you buy.
• Prescription hearing aids are fully refundable within 60 days of fitting.

In summary:
• The availability of over-the-counter hearing aids may encourage people to seek help sooner.
• The first step in determining if over the counter hearing aids may be appropriate for you is to have your hearing evaluated by an audiologist.
• Over-the-counter aids are meant for people with mild hearing loss.
• Bottom line: Hearing loss is treatable. Early detection and treatment decreases risk of dementia. If you try OTC hearing aids and are not helped sufficiently, see an audiologist for guidance.

To learn more about audiology at Carle, the services and the team there to assist, go to https://carle.org/Services/Audiology-and-Hearing-Services