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Experts urge caution as hearing aids become more accessible, affordable

A new FDA rule-change allows people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss to purchase hearing aids over-the-counter instead of requiring a prescription.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — An FDA rule-change went into effect Monday, allowing people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss to purchase hearing aids over-the-counter instead of requiring a prescription.

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, only about one out of every five people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one – due, in no small part, to cost.

However, that could change. Starting Monday of this week, that FDA rule-change is allowing people to buy hearing aids over-the-counter. That means stores like Walgreens, CVS and Walmart are offering hearing aids online and in-store.

RELATED: Hearing aids are now a lot cheaper for millions of Americans after 'milestone' rule change

It’s just for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

Until now, hearing aids required a prescription from an audiologist and cost several thousand dollars on average. Plus, most insurance plans don’t cover that cost.

This change makes hearing aids available for hundreds – rather than thousands – of dollars.

Where can you buy OTC hearing aids? 

Over-the-counter hearing aids are available starting Monday at major retailers including Walmart, Walgreens and CVS. Here's a look at their plans and price points. 

• Walmart says its new OTC hearing aids range from about $200 to $1,000 per pair. The devices are available online and at Walmart Vision Centers in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, plus 474 Sam's Club Hearing Aid Centers. 

• Walgreens says it is now selling OTC hearing aids online and at stores nationwide. It currently offers one model for about $800 per pair. 

• CVS is selling three OTC hearing models ranging from about $200 to $800. Each model is currently only available on CVS.com. According to the White House, CVS plans to offer the devices in some stores starting next month. 

• Best Buy is offering several OTC hearing aids and similar products online ranging from $200 to $3,000 per pair. The chain says the products will also be available in nearly 300 stores by the end of October. In a news release, it encouraged customers to take its online hearing assessment when choosing a device. 

RELATED: Yes, over-the-counter hearing aids are now available after a 2017 law paved the way

What are the concerns?

Elizabeth Barragan, Au.D., is a doctor of audiology and works at The Hearing Solution in Sacramento.

She says it’s good that hearing aids are becoming more affordable and accessible but cautions people to do their homework before running out to buy a pair.

“I recommend still getting a hearing evaluation by your hearing care professional, to first diagnose your hearing loss and the type of hearing loss that you have, and address any medical issues that may be correlated with your hearing loss,” Dr. Barragan told ABC10. “That's very important to do first, before getting over-the-counter hearing aids.” 

Sheri Farinha, CEO of NorCal Services for Deaf & Hard of Hearing, agrees.

“There's various different levels and types of hearing loss,” Farinha said, adding “it's important for you to get an audiological exam so that you get the right fit, the right type. If you don't get the right fit or the right type, it can cause even more damage to your residual hearing.”

Dr. Barragan also pointed out that getting hearing aids over-the-counter could also mean less tech support.

“With these over-the-counter hearing devices, there's no follow up care,” she said. “Where are all these individuals going to be directed when they run into an issue with their hearing aids? We at The Hearing Solution have two audiology assistants that help with devices that need to go out for repair, because this is something that happens very frequently as hearing aids are a medical device that's worn full time. So maintenance is definitely very needed.”

For customers who can’t afford full-priced hearing aids, ABC10 asked her if an audiologist could give a hearing exam and then recommend an over-the-counter pair.

“Yeah, we can definitely give recommendations and - again - getting a hearing test first is so important, just to diagnose your hearing loss, see what type of hearing loss that you have. And we can definitely give you a recommendation, and that way with your over-the-counter hearing aids, you're able to have an actual hearing test to plug into them," Barragan said. “There's so much that goes into programming a hearing aid. Every individual has their own personalized programming and has their own listening needs that they need addressed with their hearing devices. So they won't be able to have that personalized programming - that they will need in different listening environments - with over-the-counter hearing aids.”


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