For the next few weeks, we’re presenting a series of articles about the highly publicized and anticipated over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. Opinions from the audiology community may vary, with some opposed and others, like me, cautiously optimistic.

I hope OTC hearing aids will spur more people to seek help earlier when hearing loss is mild. I hope OTC hearing aids will provide an inexpensive, starter solution for mild hearing loss, much like OTC reading glasses. If you’re curious and want to learn more about OTC hearing aids, we hope you will find these articles informative and helpful.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids and Consumer Protection

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders,

“Hearing loss significantly affects quality of life for tens of millions of adults in the United States and contributes to high health care costs. Untreated hearing loss can lead to isolation, and it has been associated with serious conditions such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, dementia, reduced mobility, and falls. Yet only one in four adults who could benefit from hearing aids has ever used them. Making hearing health care more accessible and affordable is a public health priority, especially as the number of older adults in the U.S. continues to grow.”

The Over the Counter (OTC) Hearing Aid Act was signed into law in 2017, then sent to the FDA for regulations to protect the American consumer. The FDA’s task was to develop guidelines or rules for a new class of hearing aid available directly to consumers without the guidance of a licensed professional.

Target consumers are adults (18 years or older) with a “perceived mild to moderate hearing impairment.”

Many companies started to work on OTC hearing aids while waiting for FDA guidance. President Biden made an executive decision to have them released in the summer of 2021, but as of this writing in February 2022, the final FDA regulations have not been published.

We believe the FDA is nearing the end of its necessary research and deliberations, and OTC hearing aids should be a viable option for consumers sometime this year.

The proposed OTC rule, published in October 2021, states that the final rules should more clearly define “prescription hearing aids.”

In the past, the FDA only gave its stamp of approval to hearing aids prescribed, programmed, and fit by licensed professionals. With the advent of OTC hearing aids, a new term, “prescription hearing aids,” was born. Educating consumers about OTC and prescription hearing aids, the differences, the pros and cons, and the other healthcare variables at play will be an ongoing effort for us at Alabama Hearing Associates in the coming years.

As an audiologist who has prescribed hearing aids for the past 30 years, I look forward to being a voice of calm, clear, and trustworthy advice.

The challenge for consumers will be to wade through the marketing hype to find help for their hearing. With years to perfect their shiny, eye-catching, compelling ads, hearing aid companies are all set to convince the masses that their OTC hearing aids are best.

In addition to the hearing aid propaganda, these companies will also be touting the fact that consumers can take charge of their own hearing care, bypassing the time and cost to see a professional.

If you have questions, please call 256-319-4327, and one of our friendly team members will call you back shortly. Stay tuned for the next OTC article about the key differences between OTC and prescription hearing aids.

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Dr. Jan Liles

Dr. Liles earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Montevallo and her master’s degree from the University of Alabama. From 1991 to 2001, she worked with two ENT medical practices and initiated one of the first newborn hearing screening programs in the state. In 2002, she was awarded a doctorate in audiology from the University of Florida. Dr. Liles and her longtime best friend, Dr. Sheehy, founded Alabama Hearing Associates in January 2002.
    Real World Adjustments

    Your hearing loss didn't occur overnight, so it will take some time to adjust to the hearing aids. Your patience and persistence will be well worth it.

    AHA Continued Care & Coverage Plan

    $395 Per Year

    Hearing Aids are not a quick fix, and better hearing is truly a journey.

    Our "Continued Care & Coverage Plan" allows you to have the continued support of a hearing expert throughout the year.

    Includes:

    • Dedicated team of hearing care experts at your service
    • Comprehensive Annual Visit including hearing assessment, hearing device adjustment, and 19-Point preventative maintenance evaluation
    • 100% moisture removal by Redux and cleaning
    • Two tele-audiology appointments
    • Bi-annual hearing aid software update and reprogramming
    • Hearing aid supplies (stock receivers, batteries, domes, and filters)
    • Access to our "speed of light" repair specialists within 2 business days
    • $100 discount on any out-of-warranty factory repairs
    Assessing Outcomes

    To ensure the most success with your hearing devices, we measure the benefits of amplification at the end of your adjustment period—some of the surveys and tests included in the “Connect 365” Functional Hearing Assessment will be repeated to evaluate progress, quality of life, and patient satisfaction with the hearing aids. 

    Wireless Connections

    Most hearing aids automatically come with wireless streaming from smartphones and it has been a lifesaver for those that are working remotely and spending hours on teleconferences. As for other wireless accessories, the two most popular solutions are a small microphone used in less-than-ideal listening environments and a TV streamer that streams the TV’s sound directly into your ears—which can be a lifesaver when watching British TV shows or during football season. If your audiologist believes they would be beneficial for you, they will discuss your options and demonstrate the device in the office.

    Orientation, Counseling, and Follow-up

    Dr. Cliff (the creator of the Best Practice Pro Network) said it best:

    “Having a detailed orientation can dramatically improve how much success you have with hearing treatment.  Counseling & Follow-up care can also ensure that you have success for years to come.  Regular visits to a hearing care provider who spends the time to discuss treatment related information and who will maintain your devices is extremely important.”

    During the orientation, your provider will give you the tools you need to be a successful hearing aid user. Everyone has different learning styles and we want to make sure whatever works best for you is what’s used. After the 75 day adjustment period, routine checkups are necessary to maintain the hearing aids and to ensure optimal hearing healthcare. 

    What Is Real-Ear Measurement?

    Real-ear measurement (REM) is how an audiologist knows that hearing aids are working the way they should in each patient’s ears.

    Ears are as unique as a fingerprint. Because of this, every ear will collect sounds differently.

    Even if I had two patients with the exact same hearing loss and hearing aids, there’s almost no chance the hearing aids would be programmed the same way.

    How do I know my new hearing aids are working properly?

    Without verifying that the hearing aid is working correctly from the start, all of the other steps in the hearing aid fitting process are useless. The most sensitive quality control measure is something called Electroacoustic Analysis. We complete EAA on every new set of hearing aids, before delivery of repaired devices, and on an annual basis.

    Prescription Hearing Technology with a Methodical Plan

    Our community understands better than most what can be achieved when you combine technology with human intelligence and persistence. It is much the same with hearing technology.

    The latest prescription hearing aid technology is incredibly powerful, offering stellar sound quality and performance. Wireless connections allow phone calls, music and television to stream directly to your hearing aids for exceptional clarity.

    But hearing aids do not fit and program themselves! For best outcomes, you also need the human touch and expertise provided by our Doctors of Audiology.

    A Comprehensive12-Step Functional Hearing Assessment

    If you struggle to understand conversations in social situations, restaurants, or other noisy environments, you do not need to schedule a basic hearing test. You certainly don’t need to schedule a “free” hearing screening or online hearing test.

    You need to schedule a “Connect 365” Functional Hearing Assessment at Alabama Hearing Associates!

    Schedule Appointment

    ALL INCLUSIVE PLAN

    $7,280

    Comprehensive 5-Year treatment plan with premium prescription hearing aid technology

    If you want premium “out of this world” technology and the highest level of service and expert support, our All-Inclusive treatment plan is the right investment for you.

    The All-Inclusive treatment plan offers long-term value for your on-the-go lifestyle, providing everything you need to connect with family and friends for years to come.

    Includes:

    • Stellar  prescription hearing devices from top manufacturer (rechargeable option available)

    • Wireless accessory included at no charge

    • Comprehensive Annual Visit including hearing assessment, hearing device adjustment, and 19-Point preventative maintenance valutaion

    • Bi-annual hearing aid software update and reprogramming

    • Same day diagnosis and in-office repair during weekdays for devices dropped off before 3:00 p.m.

    • 5-Year full-service repair warranty

    • Unlimited remote hearing aid adjustments

    • 100% moisture removal by Redux and cleaning

    • Hearing aid supplies (stock receivers, batteries, domes and filters)

    • $1000 contribution towards purchase of upgraded technology within 48 months

    • 3-Year replacement warranty for loss or damage (no deductible)

    • Dedicated team of hearing care experts at your service

    • Unlimited teleaudiology appointments

    • Access to our “speed of light” repair specialists

    Basic Hearing Test

    A basic hearing test begins with an air conduction test. You will be seated in a soundproof booth and single-use, foam earphones will be inserted into your ear canals. The Audiologist will ask you to push a button or raise your hand when you barely hear a series of beeps (tones) presented at various frequencies (pitches) to obtain your air conduction thresholds.

    To determine whether your hearing loss is a conductive (mechanical) loss, sensorineural (permanent) loss or combination of the two, we perform a bone conduction test.  

    For this test, a head band is place on the bone behind one of the ears to obtain your bone conduction thresholds. This process provides a different form of sound transmission using vibration, which bypasses the eardrum and the middle ear bones and directly stimulates the auditory nerve. When you hear the beeps/tones, you will push a button or raise your hand.

    If bone conduction thresholds are better than air conduction thresholds (through the foam inserts), you have a conductive hearing loss. This suggests a problem with the mechanical structures (moving parts) of the ears.

    Conductive hearing loss is often a medically treatable condition for which we will provide you with a referral to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician. However, if bone and air conduction thresholds match, it indicates a sensorineural hearing loss (permanent), and the treatment will likely involve hearing aids.