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Hear better with over the counter hearing aids

Written by Diane Archer

New research published in JAMA finds that low-cost over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids may help more than 20 million people with mild to moderate hearing loss hear better. These hearing aids, recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, can be bought in a pharmacy without a prescription.

These hearing aids are called Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs). They are not so different technologically from the prescribed hearing aids that cost several thousand dollars.  And, at far lower cost than traditional hearing aids, they may be worth trying.

Since Medicare does not cover hearing aids, millions of people with hearing loss end up going without any hearing assistance. As few as one in seven of them get a hearing aid, according to the National Academies. People with Medicaid may have coverage for hearing aids, depending upon the state they live in.  In 34 states, hearing aids are covered, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation

The researchers found that participants’ hearing improved by 11 percent with one of the PSAPs, Sound World Solutions, which retails for $350.  By comparison, a prescription hearing aid, which cost $1,910, improved hearing by 12 percent. Participants studied had mild to moderate hearing loss.

There are less expensive PSAPs than Sound World Solutions. But the researchers found that the MSA 30X, which retails for $30, worsened people’s ability to hear.  Consumer Reports did its own independent testing and reached the same conclusion. It found that the Bell and Howell Silver Sonic also did not have much benefit and potentially could cause hearing damage through overamplification.

If possible, consult with an audiologist before buying a PSAP. And, if you do buy one, make sure it is properly fitted.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Charles Grassley have introduced a bi-partisan bill in Congress that would make it easier for people to get over-the- counter hearing aids of different varieties. A similar bill was introduced in the House.

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