FDA approves over-the-counter hearing aids to lower costs, increase access

KSAT meteorologist says move could also lower stigma, allow more people to try hearing aids

Eighty percent of people who would benefit from hearing aids don't wear them, according to the National Institutes of Health. That's because of cost, access and stigma. However, a new move by the FDA may change all of that.

SAN ANTONIO – Eighty percent of people who would benefit from hearing aids don’t wear them, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Some of that has to do with stigma.

“Stigma is still a big issue when it comes to wearing hearing aids even though on a day-to-day basis you probably couldn’t even tell I was wearing a hearing aid,” KSAT Meteorologist Sarah Spivey said.

KSAT viewers know Sarah as a talented meteorologist, but she’s also very open about her one-sided moderate hearing loss.

“So, I only need one hearing aid, but that one hearing aid still costs thousands of dollars and often times insurance doesn’t cover the cost,” she said.

Sarah knows first-hand the main reason people don’t try hearing aids is the cost.

Traditional hearing aids ordered through an audiologist run about $1,000 to $6,000 a pair.

The main way to get a hearing aid has been through an audiologist or a hearing health specialist, and the cost of the devices was often bundled with the price of the service the specialist provided to fit and program the equipment, including follow-up visits.

However, there’s about to be another option.

On Aug. 16, the US Food and Drug Administration approved over-the-counter hearing aids that could cost between $250 and $1,000 a pair.

The rule applies to people with mild to moderate hearing loss over 18 years old.

The devices could be available by mid-October, according to the FDA.

“The whole point here is to increase accessibility and affordability of hearing aids, which was not the case before,” said ENT surgeon Dr. Sreek Cherukuri.

Cherukuri has been an ear nose and throat surgeon for over 20 years and has always advocated for hearing aid affordability.

“I created a low-cost direct-to-consumer hearing aid business. We manufacture and sell hearing aids at a much cheaper cost,” he said.

Cherukuri is thrilled with the FDA announcement, but wants customers to do research before buying over the counter.

“It’s probably a great idea to get a hearing test and you can get a free one at many places. There are some online and there are some apps, but they aren’t as good,” he said.

Cherukuri said to make sure the device you’re buying is a medical grade hearing aid approved by the FDA, and make sure they offer a generous return policy or trial period, and a long warranty.

“Some studies look at 90% of consumers try two or three devices before they settle on one,” Cherukuri said.

Other experts say to look for one with a robust smartphone app.

A main question for many in the public is whether or not they need a hearing aid.

Signs of mild/moderate hearing loss include if:

• Sounds seem muffled

• You have trouble hearing in noisy areas or on the phone

• You have to ask people to speak more slowly, louder or repeat themselves

• You turn up the TV or radio volume higher than others

“I am actually between hearing aids, so I’m looking into getting another one. Before, my only option was to spend thousands of dollars, but now I’m gong to have to weigh that against these FDA- approved lower-cost hearing aids,” Sarah said.

If you’re also in that mild to moderate category, Sarah wants you to know that trying a hearing aid is worth it.

“Be proud of your hearing aids! They make you who you are and they make your quality of life better,” she said.

There are some signs of severe hearing loss that require medical and expert attention.

“If a patient has one-sided hearing loss or ringing in their ears, if they have sudden hearing loss, vertigo or dizziness, those are signs they should seek medical attention before they go purchase something on their own,” Cherukuri said.

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About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.