OTC Hearing Aids?

You may have seen that the Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Bill was recently passed as a part of the FDA Reauthorization Act. This is exciting news for the hearing care industry, as around 80% of individuals who would benefit from amplification do not currently utilize any form of hearing care.

Much is still to be determined as the FDA has three years to create regulations and distinctions for this new category of devices.  Eliminating the current marketing and use of unregulated Personal Sound Amplification Devices as an alternative will greatly improve public safety.

I anticipate widely available amplifiers with treble/bass and overall volume control and a built in gain limiter so that the devices are not capable of creating further hearing loss in their users.  Most will be digital with feedback controls and the ability to adjust sound level and quality through a computer or phone or onboard controls.  These will be very similar to our hearing aid technology of the early 1990’s. These will be a great option for individuals with mild hearing loss that has not impacted auditory processing in a significant way.  Aiding hearing loss at an earlier stage will slow the process of auditory deprivation hopefully resulting in less loss of auditory processing as well as improving overall health goals such as cognition, social engagement, and physical activity levels.

My hope is that traditional hearing aids will be designated as Class 2 medical devices.  These will remain the appropriate treatment option for individuals with hearing thresholds greater than 40 dB, sharply sloping hearing losses, or auditory processing difficulty such as difficulty understanding speech in nose.

Our current hearing aid technology has 12-32 channels of frequency control and 3-4 loudness levels with additional algorithms for different types of noise reduction, special shaping, frequency compression, and tinnitus management.  In my practice, all devices are fit with a small microphone tube located 3-4 mm from the tympanic membrane to calibrate the sound very precisely.  The hearing loss levels and acoustics of the ear canal are taken into account, and sound levels are set to match an independent, Evidence-Based prescription for ideal speech understanding.  Sometimes additional settings are created for sound quality of music, or specific environments.  Accessories can be connected to aid with processing difficulties, for individuals with difficulty managing competing noise due to cognitive decline.  The recommendation and selection of these hearing systems is based on concrete test results.

Hearing care has been a field of rapid change for over 20 years now, and the changes will certainly continue!  I hope to be a resource to you and your family as we navigate expanded access and changing technologies.  Please call or message the office to find out more information about hearing care resources, changing regulations, and our practice.

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