Introduced in Congress a few months ago, the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 would allow adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss to purchase hearing aids at a lower cost, without first consulting with a hearing care specialist or doctor. If this legislation passes, a new class of hearing aids will be widely available at pharmacies and supermarkets, much in the same way that reading glasses are now.
The bill was designed to improve access to hearing care for those who need it, but many hearing advocacy groups, including the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing stand firmly opposed to it. The reason? They believe this controversial change in the hearing aid market could actually hurt people with hearing loss, instead of helping them. Here are the facts about what this bill would mean, and why treating your own hearing loss with lower-quality hearing aids isn’t a good idea.
An Overview of the OTC Hearing Aid Act
Backed by Democrats and Republicans, the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017–which is currently awaiting the president’s signature–would require the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to propose a rule that would establish an OTC hearing aid category for adults with “perceived” mild-to-moderate hearing loss within three years of passage of the legislation. The new class of hearing aids would be regulated by the FDA, in the same manner as other medical devices. All state laws that restrict the sale of OTC hearing aids would be preempted, and the FDA would have to clarify which products meet the definition of a Personal Sound Amplification Product (PSAP) or hearing aid.
Although the authors of the bill have included some included safety regulations and output limits, audiologists and hearing care advocates throughout the state argue that using hearing aids without the help and guidance of a professional could prove ineffective at best, and harmful at worst.
Michele Michaels, of the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said: “Most of the stakeholders in this debate, our goal is the same: We want to increase access to hearing health care, and we want to increase the affordability of it. But this is not the way to go.”
The risks of self-diagnosis
Every hearing loss is unique and requires thorough analysis, diagnosis and specialized treatment for the best results. In some cases, hearing loss is a temporary symptom of a more serious underlying medical condition that could prove dangerous if ignored. That’s why hearing care experts across the state believe that untrained consumers should not be responsible for treating their own hearing loss.
Bob Baber, an Arizona hearing-aid dispenser, said: “Only 25 percent of consumers can accurately assess their degree of loss, and they don’t know if they have the loss in one or both ears. If they’re not getting professional hearing tests and physical exams, you could have a situation where someone thinks they need a hearing aid when they just have their ears totally impacted with wax.”
Tucson-based Audiologist Judy Huch noted the fact that audiologists also uncover serious nerve problems, infections and tumors during exams. “People might say, ‘OK, you’ve found three tumors in 20 years,’” she commented. “But for me, missing one tumor out of thousands of people would be too many.”
Serious medical conditions aside, there is another problem with self-diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss. Usually, hearing aids require small adjustments to find the ideal fit and fine-tune the sound levels. Hearing care professionals are concerned that first-time users may be discouraged from treating their loss simply because the fit and amplification are incorrect.
East Valley audiologist Tina Jessee said, “If cheap hearing aids changed lives, I would’ve been selling them the last 25 years. Good hearing aids are expensive because they come with services and counseling. To me, this would be like buying a pacemaker at Target.”
Officials also worry that over-the-counter hearing aids may be used to treat children’s hearing loss, though they will technically be restricted to adults. Pediatric hearing loss is serious and should always be treated with the advice of a doctor, but there is no way to ensure this will happen if the hearing aid market is deregulated.
In late-June, the Hearing Industries Association weighed in on the bill, stating the critical need to appropriately treat hearing loss and emphasizing the crucial role of hearing professionals in providing treatment that leads to successful outcomes. The HIA also stressed the importance of stringent FDA regulation should the bill pass, in order to avoid a “race to the bottom” in the hearing aid market.
For the best results, choose a licensed hearing professional
Lifestyle Hearing Solutions of Tucson and Oro Valley, Arizona has an expert team of state-licensed professionals who are waiting to help you enjoy hearing again. With the care and guidance of a dedicated professional, you’ll receive a treatment solution that works with your budget and makes you feel happy, confident and comfortable with your purchase. Take the first step towards better hearing and come in for your free hearing exam, consultation and fitting today!