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Hearing aids without a prescription could be just as helpful in treating hearing loss, study shows

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN

(CNN) — Not enough adults are utilizing hearing aids, but experts hope new accessible options will make a difference.

“A recent study showed that only 15% of US adults with hearing loss use hearing aids,” said Dr. Karina De Sousa, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of speech-language pathology and audiology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

“There are many potential reasons people opt not to get hearing aids, but one issue has been the accessibility and affordability of the devices,” she added in April.

Fortunately, De Sousa’s small, preliminary study published in April in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, found that a self-fitting, over-the-counter hearing aid could be as good of an option for some people as those fitted by an audiologist.

Addressing hearing loss promptly is important for long term health, said Lise Hamlin, public policy director of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

“Early adoption of hearing aids could help people hold onto their jobs, communicate better at home with family and friends, and in remain active their communities,” Hamlin said in April.

A 2020 Lancet commission on dementia prevention, intervention and care suggested hearing loss may be associated with around 8% of dementia cases. And a December 2022 meta-analysis found that people with hearing loss who wore devices to help performed 3% better on cognitive scores in the short term.

Not a one size fits all

Hearing aids became more available without a prescription following the US Food and Drug Administration’s August 2022 decision to allow people with mild to moderate hearing loss to buy hearing aids online or over the counter.

“The establishment of an OTC hearing aid category by the FDA opens a new range of options for people with hearing loss,” De Sousa added in an email.

The Hearing Loss Association of America still supports multiple avenues for addressing hearing loss, Hamlin said.

Some people may find a hearing aid over the counter that works for them, but others may need the help of a health care professional, she added.

Hamlin advises people to do their homework and consider their specific needs first — and encourages them to utilize HLAA’s online resources – which can help determine what to look for in a hearing aid, if one may be right for you and what questions to ask your doctor – before making a purchase.

“One thing to remember is that OTC hearing aids are not a one-size fits all option,” De Sousa added. “If you do not meet the specified criteria for wearing an OTC hearing aid, I would recommend seeking the help of a qualified hearing professional.”

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