What to know before buying an over-the-counter hearing aid

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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RI (WPRI) – In the coming days, major retail pharmacies are announcing that hearing aids will be available over-the-counter in stores and online for the first time.

This comes after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided in August to allow the devices to be made available to adults with mild to moderate hearing loss without a prescription, fitting or medical exam.

The rule should also reduce the cost of hearing aids.

“Establishing this new regulatory category will allow people with mild to moderate hearing loss to have convenient access to a range of safe, effective and affordable hearing aids at their neighborhood store or online,” said said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf in August. .

According to the latest data from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 28.8 million American adults could benefit from the use of hearing aids.

LEARN MORE: 8 signs of hearing loss »

Dr. Rachel Smith, director of the Audiology Clinic at the University of Rhode Island Speech and Hearing Centers, said she hopes it will not only improve access, but also health awareness. auditory.

“The FDA’s intention was to expand access. You can get glasses from an optometrist or ophthalmologist, or you can get them from a local pharmacy,” Smith said.

“They’re looking to make hearing aids the same way,” she added.

Before going shopping, Smith suggested taking a hearing test first to determine the level of hearing loss.

“I recommend taking this hearing test and using the knowledge and guidance of this professional, audiologist, hearing care professional, reviewing your hearing test, reviewing the results, identifying your communication needs and make good, informed decisions about what is going to be appropriate for you, given those results,” Smith explained.

According to Smith, there are several things to consider before buying a hearing aid, including whether there is a trial period. She said these periods can generally range from 30 to 90 days.

“It gives you the flexibility to wear the hearing aid or wear the devices in your real life and see if exactly you benefit from it,” Smith said. “You want to know what your rights are when it comes to buying these products and returning them, if necessary, for a refund.”

Additionally, Smith said consumers should look at a hearing aid’s manual dexterity and whether it requires a battery or is rechargeable, includes a volume control option, and is compatible with a phone. or an app.

Smith said one of the drawbacks of devices made available over the counter is that there will be no professional to consult or get help installing the device.

“You have to learn to put it in your ear yourself,” she added. “If it’s connected to your cellphone, connect it to the cellphone yourself. There’s no support outside of that.

The FDA’s decision takes effect Oct. 17, but not all pharmacies may have hearing aids available that day. Walgreens and Walmart said they would start making select products available on the 17th.

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