SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — In the coming days, major retail pharmacies say hearing aids will be available over the counter in stores and online for the first time.
This comes after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided in August to allow the devices to be made available to adults with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss, without a prescription, fitting or medical exam.
The rule is also expected to lower the cost of hearings aids.
“Establishing this new regulatory category will allow people with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss to have convenient access to an array of safe, effective and affordable hearing aids from their neighborhood store or online,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf said in August.
According to the latest data from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 28.8 million U.S. adults could benefit from using hearing aids.
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Dr. Rachel Smith, director of the University of Rhode Island’s Speech and Hearing Centers Audiology Clinic, said she hopes it will not only improve access, but also raise hearing health awareness.
“The intent of the FDA was to broaden access. You can get glasses at an optometrist, or an ophthalmologist, or you can get them at a local drugstore,” Smith said.
“They’re looking to make hearing aids the same way,” she added.
Before going shopping, Smith suggested first taking a hearing test to determine the level of hearing loss.
“I recommend getting that hearing testing and utilizing that professional, that audiologist, that hearing instrument specialist’s knowledge and counseling, look at your hearing test, going over what the results are, where your communication needs may be and making good, educated decisions as to what’s 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 knowing whether there is a trial period. She said those periods can typically range anywhere from 30 to 90 days.
“That gives you the ability to wear the hearing aid or wearing the devices out in your real life and seeing if you are exactly getting benefit,” Smith said. “You want to know what your rights are when it comes to purchasing these products and returning them, if necessary, for a refund.”
Additionally, Smith said consumers should examine the manual dexterity of a hearing device and learn if it requires a battery or is rechargeable, includes a volume control option, and if it is compatible with a phone or app.
Smith said one of the downsides to the devices being made available over the counter is that there won’t be a professional to consult with or get help from with fitting the device.
“You need to learn how to put it in your ear yourself,” she added. “If it has a connection to your cell phone, connect it to the cell phone yourself. There is no support outside of that.”
The FDA ruling takes effect on Oct. 17, but not every pharmacy may have hearing devices available that day. Walgreens and Walmart have said they will begin making some products available on the 17th.