AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Food and Drug Administration-approved hearing aids are now available over the counter in pharmacies and retail stores across the country for mild to moderate hearing loss.

In August the FDA finalized rules that allowed hearing aids to be sold OTC. The final ruling came after congress passed legislation on over-the-counter hearing aids. President Joe Biden further encouraged the decision in July of 2021 when he issued an executive order on promoting competition in the American economy.

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Consumers looking for a hearing aid must be mindful of the type of device they are purchasing as well as the severity of their hearing loss.

“There’s two primary things that a consumer is going to want to look for, one is are you purchasing a hearing aid or are you purchasing an amplifier?” said Megan Laughlin Au.D., Audiologist. “Because there is a very big difference between the two and amplifier is simply amplifying all sounds. A hearing aid generally has a prescription and set based off of the wearer’s hearing test or hearing evaluation, and so that’s the distinguishing difference between what you’re going to see on the shelf.”

Although retail stores and pharmacies are offering hearing aids, they do not provide the same quality or long-term solution that going to an audiologist may give and some patients are already experiencing concerning impacts from OTC hearing aids.

Laughlin shared the following story, “I had a specific patient, he came in just today and he had purchased a set of hearing aids from Walmart, about 30 days ago, and they were $500, he said. He brought them to us, because they just weren’t helping him. He couldn’t figure out how to get them turned on, he couldn’t figure out how to change the batteries. And then when he did get to that point in the process, he wasn’t noticing any benefit.”

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Laughlin continued, “So he came to us and of course, after testing this patient, and during the diagnostic evaluation, we found that he had a profound hearing loss, which is the most advanced hearing loss that we can measure. So this over the counter option that he had spent all the majority over half of his monthly income on, to be quite honest with you. It wasn’t adequate or appropriate for his hearing loss. What is worrisome to the healthcare industry is that there was nobody there to counsel him through that process. There was nobody there to say this is not appropriate, it is not going to treat your hearing loss.”

The only way to know if you are experiencing hearing loss or the severity is to receive a diagnostic hearing exam. At Amarillo hearing clinic patients receive a diagnostic evaluation, a diagnosis determines the hearing loss, and then the health care providers work to provide the best technology for a patient and their lifestyle.

At a hearing doctor, patients receive diagnostic testing that determines the amount of hearing loss and determines the custom hearing aid that is needed.

Laughlin stated, “I think it’s important for patients to know that not all hearing aids are $6,000. I think that there’s this this concept out there that hearing aids are $6,000 and there’s no way I can afford that we can actually provide amplification options for every patient for every budget. So just because you’re coming to a healthcare provider does not mean you’re paying thousands and thousands of dollars out of pocket for you for amplification or assistance. We have options and we also have resource. We can get you your hearing health care without taking away the health care portion of that process.”

Big companies like Walgreens, CVS and other major retailers have focused more on the elderly population. Because of this healthcare providers worked with the community to provide solutions and help offset the cost of hearing aids.

Some signs of hearing loss to be mindful of include the following: onset of tinnitus or ringing in the ears, difficulty understanding the clarity of speech and difficulty listening and background noise.

Walgreens and CVS are two retailers who started selling FDA approved hearing aids effective Oct.17. Walgreens released the following statement.

Starting today, customers with mild-to-moderate hearing loss can purchase Lexie Lumen hearing aids directly from their neighborhood Walgreens, without a prescription. Walgreens is committed to breaking down barriers to offer convenient access to affordable health and wellness solutions. Together with Lexie Hearing, we are making it easy for customers nationwide to purchase high-quality hearing aids directly from their neighborhood Walgreens, both online and in-store,“-Walgreens

CVS also released a statement on hearing aid accessibility and affordability in their store.

As a result of the new rule by the FDA which allows for the sale of OTC Hearing Aids, customers with mild to moderate hearing loss will now have access to accessible and affordable solutions on starting today October 17, with varying options on model and price point depending on their needs. CVS will also offer hearing aids in select CVS Pharmacy locations beginning in November. In these stores and on, customers will have access to a non-diagnostic hearing screener. The in-store experience will also allow for customers to connect with the suppliers to discuss additional details on the product assortment. This is an important step toward increasing accessibility and affordability of hearing aids for Americans who need them.”- CVS Pharmacy