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Experts Demystify Hearing Loss

A discussion covering the crucial connection between health and hearing, including advice on new over-the-counter hearing aids

At an AARP virtual event, Frank Lin, M.D., and audiologist Nicholas Reed, authors of the new 'Hearing Loss for Dummies,' spoke with AARP editor Neil Wertheimer about how to navigate hearing loss, including advice on new over-the-counter hearing aids. ​

Lin and Reed described how to tell if you or a loved one has hearing loss that needs to be treated, things you can do to protect your hearing, causes and treatment of tinnitus and the connection between dementia and hearing loss. ​

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An estimated 15 percent of adults in the United States report trouble hearing, and that increases with age. About a third of people ages 65 to 74 and half of those over age 75 have hearing loss. But many people deny that their hearing is declining, due perhaps to stigma or the “slow and insidious nature of hearing loss,” Reed said.​​

Getting tested​​

So, how do you convince people who might need one to get a hearing test? ​

“If you think people are mumbling around you, I doubt they are mumbling. I think you most likely are hitting that hearing loss side,” said Reed, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. ​

He said because hearing is related to so many aspects of everyday life, including cognitive processing and how you interact with others, “we should all get checked throughout our lifetime. Just get some baseline.” ​​Lin said hearing loss might be the “single largest risk factor for dementia because of strain it puts on our brain, of how it can change your brain over time, of how it makes it harder to interact with others.” A new study has found that treating hearing loss could reduce that risk. ​​

Protecting your hearing​​

Although some risk factors seem to elevate risk of hearing loss, including diabetes, smoking and high blood pressure, the most important way to protect your hearing is to limit long-term exposure to loud noises, Lin said, adding that duration and intensity of the sound both matter.

“If you are standing next to the lawn mower and you really could not hear someone at arm’s length, you should be using ear protection,” said Lin, who is a professor of otolaryngology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “If you are 100 feet away on the veranda while your wife mows the lawn, you probably don’t need to use ear protection.”


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​​Over-the-counter hearing aids​​

spinner image AARP's Hearing Loss for Dummies book by Frank Lin, MD, PhD, and Nicholas Reed, AuD

'Hearing Loss for Dummies'

Authors Frank Lin and Nicholas Reed at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine lay out the steps to hearing health, including the benefits for your cognitive, emotional and physical well-being. 

In August the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a rule that allowed hearing aids to be sold over the counter. These new devices are expected to transform the hearing aid marketplace, saving consumers an average of about $2,800 a pair. The devices are approved for those with mild to moderate hearing loss; people with severe hearing loss will still need to see an audiologist to get a hearing aid with a prescription.

​​Reed and Lin said the new rule will open the hearing aid industry to innovation, with multiple companies entering the hearing aid space and implementing new technology making hearing aids easier to use. Because the over-the-counter hearing aids are so new, however, Lin said pricing would be “the Wild, Wild West for a couple of years.”

Lin predicted prices would drop over time. ​​Lin and Reed emphasized that just because people can now buy over-the-counter hearing aids doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t visit an audiologist if they need help, although people will likely have to pay for that visit. ​