Expert Advice: What to consider with over-the-counter hearing aids
Host Amber Smith: Here's some expert advice from audiologist, Erin Bagley from Upstate Medical University. What's important to know about over-the-counter hearing aids?
Erin Bagley: My biggest concerns are some of the marketing has been, "now available without needing a hearing test." I do think it's still really important if you have concerns about your hearing to get a hearing test. Hearing loss is one of those things that can come on very gradually over time. So, it's not always clear what degree of hearing loss you may have. Over-the-counter hearing aids are really intended for people with a mild to moderate hearing loss. But if you haven't had a hearing test, you may not know if you fall in that category.
Also, I think it's very important to make sure that we're ruling out other causes of hearing loss that might be treatable in another way. We want to make sure that it's not something like wax in their ears, or fluid, things like that that could be treated differently. So, I still think it's really important to at least get a baseline hearing test where you put on headphones, and let the audiologist know when you hear the beeps. We also measure word understanding as well, so some recordings of speech and have the patient repeat the words to see how clear speech is for them, too.
Ears come in all different shapes and sizes. And that's where, as a professional, it's important to make sure that our patients' hearing aids fit well. So that is a concern that we have with over-the-counter hearing aids, is just making sure people are able to get something that fits well for them. You know, I'm anticipating they're going to come with some different size tips that go on the part that goes into the ear, and finding a size that is a good fit for the ear so that it stays in place well is going to be important.
Currently we don't know exactly how the labeling is going to work on over-the-counter hearing aids. Our professional organizations, the American Speech Hearing Association, and the American Academy of Audiology have been working with the FDA, to give suggestions on labeling.
Hearing aids purchased through an audiologist in New York state, have a 45-day trial period. So the patient can return the hearing aids within 45 days to get a refund. We don't know yet exactly how return policies will work with over-the-counter hearing aids, so one thing I would caution people about is to make sure anything you do buy over the counter does have some sort of clearly stated return policy in case it doesn't work out for you.
Also, I'm a big believer in things like online reviews. Get as much information as you can about the product you're buying because we don't know yet which manufacturers or which companies may be starting to produce their own devices and enter the market. So even audiologists, we're not sure yet what kind of devices we might be seeing in the stores.
You know, I'm anticipating some will look kind of more like a Bluetooth headset kind of device, and some are going to look more like a traditional hearing aid, so I think we're going to see a range of sizes and styles. A lot of prescription hearing aids have the ability to answer the phone, to stream music. Most of them have an app where you can make some adjustments to settings or volume.
Prescription hearing aids through an audiologist are fit, like a prescription. So they are fit to the person's hearing loss. There's measurements that can be taken with a small microphone in the ear while the patient's wearing the hearing aid to make sure that the output of the hearing aid is doing what we think it's doing and meeting their needs.
In my experience, the longer someone has been struggling with their hearing, sometimes the longer it takes for them to get used to hearing differently through the hearing aids and hearing sounds around them again, and kind of relearn what all those different little noises in their home environment are. But every person is different and has a different experience. I find people that are really motivated and wear their hearing aids consistently do adapt more quickly than people who are not quite ready to wear them all the time.
Host Amber Smith: You've been listening to audiologist, Erin Bagley from Upstate Medical University.