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Over-the-counter hearing aids go on sale in Colorado

Coloradans with hearing loss: "This is a game changer"
Hearing aid
Posted at 5:14 PM, Oct 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-17 22:59:46-04

For the first time, Colorado adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss can buy over-the-counter hearing aids after new Biden administration rules took effect on Monday.

The Hearing Health Foundation reports that out of the 48 million Americans with hearing loss, only 14% will use hearing aids. A big reason for that is the price: hearing aids cost on average $5,000per pair.

In the past, people had to get a prescription and custom-fitted hearing aids, but Coloradans with hearing loss say the new rules will be a game-changer.

"My life changed. My whole world changed when I starting using hearing aids," said Debbie Mohney, the head of the Colorado chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America. "My hearing got better; my speech got better. I used to be more withdrawn, stay at home. I push myself out of my boundaries to go do things, like dance socially.

Her hearing aids cost about $4,000 and are not covered by insurance. While her hearing loss is considered severe, she said the new FDA rule is changing things in the hearing loss community.

"I do think that this is a game-changer because it means that people will be able to go do this on their own," said Mohney. "But again, I think it's a good idea to be educated before you get out there."

Vinaya Manchalah is the director of audiology at UCHealth and calls the OTC hearing aids a "turning point" for hearing care as companies that already invest in earbud technology such as Apple and Samsung enter the arena.

"The idea with this is that it can improve accessibility and reduce the cost substantially," said Manchalah. "For me, it's not today that is exciting. It's actually the future. I think it is going to force competition in the market. The first generation of over-the-counter devices might be okay, but in a few generations, I think they will become better and maybe a great device."

Until then, the OTC hearing aid market has been called "The Wild West," with regulations rolling out slowly and retailers scrambling to get them on shelves.

Manchalah has researched different types of hearing assistance devices and recommended that before you buy, consider it an investment like a quality headset.

"Don't try these really cheap devices because most of them currently don't work," he said. "I'm hoping in the future that we will have really cheap solutions that work well."

His research showed that for now, products costing more than $300 had the best quality. He also recommended looking for reputable manufacturers.

Also, the return policy is crucial and must be on the package. Look for the phrase "OTC hearing aid" or "Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid" on the package. If it's not there, it's not an FDA-regulated device

And don't be afraid to ask for help if you are having trouble with your device.

"By all means, try these devices," he said. "But if you need help, don't hesitate to go and consult getting healthcare professionals. Sometimes if you're doing 20,30, 50 hours of research, if you add your time up, it is much cheaper to pay somebody for an hour consultation."

The Hearing Loss Association of America has an OTC tip sheet and shopping checklist.

Mohney said people with hearing loss should be aware that hearing aids do not work immediately like glasses, and may take weeks to adjust to in various settings.

"A lot of people don't like the amplification when they first get them. It's too loud," she said. "You have to wear them and get used to them before you make that decision if they're going to work for you.

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