The Challenge of OTC Hearing Aids

With the first anniversary of the availability of over-the-counter hearing aids (OTCs) rapidly approaching on October 17, a national poll commissioned by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has unveiled a disheartening reality – these devices have not gained significant traction among the public.

Sony OTC Hearing aids. CRE-E10.

OTC Hearing Aids – An Ongoing Struggle

A mere 2% of American adults aged 40 and older, grappling with hearing difficulties, reported having purchased OTC hearing aids. Even more telling, only 4% expressed a likelihood of procuring OTCs in the coming year, as indicated by the ASHA poll. This comprehensive survey, which involved 2,228 U.S. adults aged 40 and older, was conducted by YouGov from June 27 to July 7, 2023.

A Deeper Understanding

Despite a substantial portion of American adults aged 40 and older (56%) acknowledging their less-than-excellent hearing, only a meager 8% sought professional treatment. What emerges as the predominant rationale for avoiding help is the belief that their hearing difficulties fail to reach a threshold of severity warranting intervention.

The Persistence of Neglect

A startling revelation from the poll exposes that nearly half (48%) of those with untreated hearing difficulties allowed their symptoms to persist for a period surpassing two years. Paradoxically, around 30% of individuals facing hearing issues reported a discernible deterioration in their quality of life. It is worth highlighting that these poll results coincide with a study published earlier in the summer, revealing that the utilization of hearing aids has the potential to significantly mitigate cognitive decline. Left untreated, hearing loss in adults is also correlated with an elevated risk of falls, depressive episodes, heightened healthcare expenditures, and a myriad of other medical, financial, and societal repercussions.

A Call to Action

Janice R. Trent, AuD, CCC-A, ASHA Vice President for Audiology Practice, emphasizes, “Hearing problems exhibit significant variability, and consequently, so do the requisite treatments. The longer an individual delays taking action, the more extensive and costly the problems can become. This is why ASHA unequivocally urges the public to promptly seek a comprehensive hearing evaluation from certified audiologists before embarking on any course of action, whether it involves the acquisition of OTC hearing aids or any other measure. These evaluations are covered by insurance providers, ensuring that care is tailored and efficacious.”

The Role of Education

Long before and since OTC hearing aids became available, ASHA has dedicated its efforts to educate not only the general public but also healthcare professionals about these devices. OTC hearing aids are specifically designed for individuals aged 18 and above, with mild to moderate hearing loss. One disconcerting finding from ASHA’s poll is that a mere 16% of American adults aged 40 and older can correctly identify that OTC hearing aids are intended exclusively for adults. The prevailing misconception that these devices are suitable for both children and adults is perpetuated due to inadequate public education.

Bridging the Knowledge Gap

It is abundantly clear that there is an urgent need for more comprehensive education regarding OTC hearing aids. Less than half of the poll respondents perceive a distinction between sound amplifiers and hearing aids. Advertising campaigns promoting OTCs often fail to explicitly specify their intended audience, erroneously drawing parallels between these devices and off-the-shelf reading glasses. While reading glasses serve to assist with light refraction for the eyes, OTCs assume a more intricate role. They deliver sound to a compromised auditory system, a task far more complex than merely increasing sound volume. Of particular concern is the fact that nearly half of respondents grappling with hearing difficulties equate OTCs with reading glasses, and more than half within this group remain unaware of the potential for hearing damage if an OTC is over-amplified.

A Call for Vigilance

Trent underscores the gravity of the situation, stating, “Hearing health should not be taken lightly or treated without due consideration, accurate information, and appropriate action. It must emerge as a top priority. ASHA remains steadfast in its commitment to continue educating both the general public and healthcare professionals about OTC hearing aids, underscoring the significance of hearing health and the critical importance of taking prompt and informed action when hearing difficulties arise.”

In summary, the journey towards wider acceptance and effective utilization of over-the-counter hearing aids is fraught with challenges. Public education, correct perception, and timely intervention emerge as key factors in addressing the persistent issue of untreated hearing difficulties among the adult population.

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