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OTC Hearing Aid Resources for Pharmacists

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With OTC hearing aids available in local pharmacies, pharmacists will be on the front lines of helping shoppers make decisions about their hearing. These resources will help you answer questions about OTC hearing aids and guide you through referring someone to an audiologist.

Why OTC Hearing Aids?

Untreated hearing loss has serious implications when it comes to quality of life. It has been linked to depression, anxiety, and dementia. For many years, the only way to get hearing aids was through a licensed healthcare professional. Unfortunately, only one in four adults who could benefit from hearing aids use them. Cost and access to services have been cited as potential barriers to uptake of hearing aids.

To make hearing aids more affordable and accessible, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has created a new category of over-the-counter hearing aids.

Who Can Benefit From OTC Hearing Aids?

OTC hearing aids are for adults 18 years of age or older. They are best suited for individuals who believe they have mild or moderate hearing loss. Consumers can purchase OTC hearing aids without a hearing examination.

Self-diagnosing hearing loss is difficult. Use this hearing checklist [PDF] to understand whether OTCs will work for a consumer.

Consumers with mild to moderate hearing loss may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty hearing in group settings, on the phone, or in loud places
  • Difficulty hearing when they can’t see the person who is talking
  • A tendency to turn up the TV or radio volume much higher than other people
  • The frequent need to ask others to repeat what they said, or to speak louder, more clearly or more slowly

Who May Not Benefit From OTC Hearing Aids?

OTC hearing aids are not for children or people with greater than moderate hearing loss. Also, individuals with certain medical conditions may not benefit from OTC hearing aids and should consult their physician before purchasing them. These conditions include:

  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Pain in the ear
  • Hearing loss that quickly worsens, comes on suddenly, or comes and goes
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Hearing loss in only one ear or hearing loss that is significantly different in one ear from the other
  • Ear deformities
  • Puss, blood, or fluid draining from ear

Anyone with one or more of these conditions should see a physician before making a purchase to rule out underlying conditions. In addition, anyone with dexterity or cognitive issues should always see an audiologist before purchasing OTC hearing aids.

Resources for pharmacists:

Should People Who Buy OTC Hearing Aids Still See an Audiologist?

The answer to this question is yes! And preferably before making a purchase. There are a few reasons for this.

It’s hard for a person to self-diagnose their degree of hearing loss.

It’s impossible for a person to know how much they don’t hear without a hearing test. With a proper evaluation, an audiologist can help people understand the degree and type of hearing loss they have. If a test reveals that a person simply has mild to moderate hearing loss with no other complications, an audiologist might even recommend OTC hearing aids as a low-cost option. Some audiologists may even offer basic maintenance of OTC hearing aids for a reasonable fee.

Audiologists can offer other options.

No matter the degree of hearing loss a person has, an audiologist can offer prescription hearing aid devices programmed to fit a person’s specific needs. From OTC and prescription hearing aids to cochlear implants and implantable bone-conduction hearing devices, an audiologist can give a person a clear picture of all their options to treat hearing loss.

In some cases, using OTC hearing aids could be counterproductive.

If a hearing aid over-amplifies sound, it could cause hearing loss to worsen. On the other hand, if a hearing aid under-amplifies sound, it won’t help a person hear as well as they could, and the benefits will be very limited. Not managing hearing loss correctly can have a serious impact on a person’s health.

How Can I Connect Patients With a Local Audiologist?

If a customer decides to see an audiologist before purchasing hearing aids, ASHA’s ProFind tool is an excellent resource to share. Consumers can use it to find certified audiologists near them.

Pharmacists should print this referral sheet [PDF] for patients who are not a good fit for OTC hearing aids.

How Can Pharmacists Learn More About Hearing Aids?

This online course was created by a pharmacist and audiologist. It covers the basic information pharmacists need to know about OTC hearing aids, how to assist customers, and when it is appropriate to refer to an audiologist for further testing or care.

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