The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017
In August 2017, we saw major changes to the future of hearing health in the US with the passage of the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act (OTC Hearing Aid Act). As a joint effort by both Democrats and Republicans, the OTC Hearing Aid Act was included in the Food and Drug Administration Reauthorization Act. The intention of the act was to make hearing aids more accessible to Americans by building on a prior build with a “physician waiver.” Previously, to purchase hearing aids, it required an evaluation from an audiologist or licensed hearing professional.
The OTC Hearing Aid Act makes it much easier for people (specifically ones who experience mild to moderate levels of hearing loss) to purchase hearing aids over-the-counter. Rather than going to take a professional hearing test, people are now able to test their hearing online and make purchases either online or over the counter for their new hearing aids.
While this act indeed makes hearing health more accessible to millions of Americans, many hearing health professionals have raised serious concerns. For one, online hearing tests are not accurate for a number of reasons – namely that audiograms require sensitive input in order to generate accurate data on your hearing abilities. Furthermore, the general information one receives from online hearing tests barely provides enough information to determine the best course of treatment. After all, would you get your own contact lenses or eye glasses online after administering a vision test to yourself?
Hearing health professionals have voiced their concerns about these latest developments in hearing heath. The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA)’s president, Gail Richard, points out: “Greater degrees of hearing loss are serious medical conditions with broader health implications. People who experience greater than a mild degree of hearing loss could take the misguided step of trying to seek relief via OTC solutions. A better course of care would involve treatment overseen by a certified and licensed audiologist.”
The Focus Should Be on Your Health, Not Profits
Even without the OTC Hearing Aid Act, it was already easy to buy your hearing aids from a hearing aid dispensary, with people who were not trained medical professionals administering hearing tests. Nationwide, there are many hearing aid dispensaries with salespeople guiding you through the process for a new pair of hearing aids – rather than trained medical professionals such as audiologists or licensed hearing instrument specialists who are focused on ensuring the best course of treatment for your hearing needs.
It is important to find a hearing health professional that you trust, whether it is an audiologist (who provides a qualified medical opinion) or a hearing instrument specialist (who has been trained to fit and customize your hearing aids to your hearing needs). From the intake interview to the hearing test to the result analysis, your hearing health professional should make decisions and recommendations for treatment based on your hearing ability and need – not their pocketbooks.
Comprehensive Health Care in Treating Your Hearing Loss
As the third most common medical condition in the United States, it is important to keep in mind that hearing loss could affect many different areas of your overall health and well-being. Unfortunately, because hearing loss is invisible, people tend to overlook the importance of seeking proper treatment with a hearing health professional.
As with other medical conditions, untreated hearing loss could affect other parts of your health, while other health issues you experience may contribute to hearing loss. Audiologists are aware of this symbiotic relationship and thus provide comprehensive health care (vestibular system, earwax, infection, tinnitus, etc.) In some cases, the appearance of hearing loss and/or tinnitus may reveal related medical issues, such as cardiovascular conditions or the use of ototoxic medication. Trusting your hearing health to an audiologist ensures that you will have a comprehensive picture of not just your hearing, but your health in general.
ASHA notes that “hearing and balance disorders are complex with medical, psychological, physical, social, educational, and employment implications.” Audiologists are prepared to meet these issues and minimize the negative impacts of hearing loss and related disorders through professional and personalized services. They undergo extensive education and training to specialize in the science of hearing, balance, and related disorders. In their training, audiologists are trained in the prevention, identification, diagnosis, and evidence-based treatment of hearing, balance, and other auditory disorders for people of all ages.
Find a Local Audiologist or Hearing Instrument Specialist
If you are experiencing changes in your hearing and want to seek treatment, look for a local audiologist or hearing instrument specialist. In this age of DIY-medical treatment, with WebMD and other websites that empower us to think we are equipped to treat our own health problems, don’t take your hearing for granted! Untreated hearing loss – or improperly treated hearing loss, for that matter – could lead to a number of other issues, from an increased risk for dementia to lower earning power.
Look for a certified audiologist or hearing instrument specialist for your comprehensive hearing test and hearing aid fittings.