SAN ANTONIO – Eighty percent of people who would benefit from hearing aids do not wear them, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Part of that has to do with stigma.
“Stigma is always 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,” said KSAT meteorologist Sarah Spivey.
KSAT viewers know Sarah as a talented meteorologist, but she is also very open about her moderate one-sided hearing loss.
“So I only need one hearing aid, but that one hearing aid still costs thousands of dollars and often the insurance doesn’t cover the cost,” she said.
Sarah knows firsthand that the number one reason people don’t try hearing aids is the cost.
Traditional hearing aids ordered through an audiologist cost between $1,000 and $6,000 a pair.
The primary way to obtain a hearing aid was through an audiologist or hearing health specialist, and the cost of the devices was often tied to the price of the service provided by the specialist to install and program the equipment, including the follow-up visits.
However, there is about to be another option.
On August 16, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved over-the-counter hearing aids that can cost between $250 and $1,000 a pair.
The rule applies to people with mild to moderate hearing loss over the age of 18.
The devices could be available by mid-October, according to the FDA.
“The goal here is to increase the 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 been an advocate for hearing aid affordability.
“I started a low-cost, direct-to-consumer hearing aid business. We make and sell hearing aids at a much cheaper cost,” he said.
Cherukuri is pleased with the FDA’s announcement, but wants customers to research before buying over-the-counter.
“It’s probably a good idea to get a hearing test and you can get one for free at many places. There are some online and there are apps, but they’re not as good,” he said.
Cherukuri said to make sure the device you buy is an FDA-cleared medical-grade hearing aid, and make sure it offers a generous return policy or trial period, and a long warranty. .
“Some studies show that 90% of consumers try two or three devices before settling on one,” Cherukuri said.
Other experts advise looking for one with a robust smartphone app.
A main question for many members of 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 places or on the phone
• You need to ask people to speak slower, louder or repeat themselves
• You turn up the TV or radio volume higher than others
“Actually, I’m between two hearing aids, so I’m considering buying another one. Before, my only option was to spend thousands of dollars, but now I’m going to have to weigh that against those lower-cost FDA-approved hearing aids,” Sarah said.
If you are also in this 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 improve your quality of life,” she said.
Some signs of severe hearing loss require medical and expert attention.
“If a patient has unilateral hearing loss or ringing in the ears, if he has sudden hearing loss, dizziness or dizziness, these are signs that he should consult a doctor before going to buy something by himself,” Cherukuri said.
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