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Over-the-counter hearing aids could be a game changer for millions

The new devices will likely save time and money and are expected to be available in October at drugstores, grocery stores and online.

HOUSTON — Starting in Mid-October, millions of Americans will be able to buy hearing aids over the counter. An FDA ruling creates a new class of devices that don’t require a medical exam or prescription.

That could be music to the ears of some 30 million Americans who suffer from hearing loss. Dr. Sarah Sydlowski is the president of the American Academy of Audiology.

 "We have one set of ears, so it's incredibly important that we treat them well,” Dr. Sydlowski said.

The over-the-counter option is expected to increase competition and eventually lower costs. The devices will be sold online or over-the-counter at pharmacies and other retail stores.

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According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, hearing loss can happen at any age but about 1-in-3 people between 65-74 have some difficulty with it. Half of Americans older than 75 suffer hearing loss.

"When hearing isn't managed appropriately it can have all sorts of consequences,” explained Dr. Sydlowski. “From feelings of social isolation to anxiety to depression.”

To get a hearing aid now, you need a medical exam and prescription. Medicare doesn’t pay for them and most insurance companies only cover the cost for children. 

Cost is a big obstacle now. Between the device itself and fitting services, Americans can pay more than $5,000 to get a hearing aid.  

This new ruling could save time and money for some, but those with severe hearing loss or other issues would still need to see a doctor.

"Whether their hearing perhaps is only in one ear or happens suddenly or have any drainage, they should absolutely bypass over-the-counter hearing aids and come directly to an audiologist," said Dr. Sydlowski.

The new over-the-counter devices are expected to be available in October at drugstores, grocery stores and online. Best Buy has already announced that it will carry the hearing aids.

Advocates predict the hearing aid market will eventually resemble eye care, where consumers can choose between drugstore reading glasses or prescription bifocals.

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