AARP Eye Center
Last year, many experts heralded the arrival of over-the-counter hearing aids, predicting that they would make the devices more affordable and accessible to millions of Americans. But the big question was: could over-the-counter hearing aids work as well as those fitted by an audiologist?
Now, the first randomized, controlled study designed to answer that question indicates the answer is yes.
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The study, published April 13 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, assigned 64 adults with mild to moderate hearing loss to either an over-the-counter hearing aid they had to adjust themselves or the same hearing aid fitted by an audiologist.
After six weeks, the self-fitted hearing aids were as effective as the audiologist-fitted devices, the research showed.
Though the trial was small, it is significant because it demonstrates that patients can successfully adjust the settings of a hearing aid without the help of an audiologist, says Nicholas Reed, an audiologist and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study.
“That these subjects – older adults with a mean age of 63 – were as successful as their peers who saw an audiologist, that’s a very significant takeaway about the viability of these over-the-counter devices,” Reed says. “This shows us that you can basically hand someone this product, and they can improve their hearing.” Reed and Frank Lin, MD, are co-authors of AARP's Hearing Loss for Dummies.
Study helps quell concerns but has limitations
The Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to over-the-counter hearing aids last year, and they first came on the market in October 2022.
Designed for those who have mild to moderate hearing loss, the devices are much less expensive than prescription options. The FDA has said that consumers can expect to save about $2,800 per pair.
Yet consumers and audiologists alike have been somewhat wary. A January 2023 survey found that 84 percent of consumers were uncomfortable with the idea of using an over-the-counter device.
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