In August of 2017, the president officially signed a new over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid legislation into law.
Whether or not you followed the story closely, there are a few important things to know about this bill, and how it will impact hearing care.
OTC law: The short and sweet version
The bill, officially known as the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, was designed with the intention to give consumers access to hearing technology without making an appointment with an audiologist.
The bill will require the FDA to create and regulate a category of OTC hearing aids to ensure they meet the same high standards for safety, consumer labeling and manufacturing protection that all other medical devices must meet.
While the bill calls the OTC devices hearing aids, they are not necessarily hearing aids by definition. This is an important distinction.
The hearing devices that are being offered over-the-counter are a classification of devices that are far different—and less sophisticated—than hearing aids. These devices are known as personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs.
PSAPs have not historically been classified as medical-grade devices, because they are very basic products designed to amplify sound. However, according to Steve Pociask in a piece written for TheHill.com, these devices themselves are not new.
In Pociask’s words, “Here's what the OTC bill does: It uses the power of government to re-brand existing devices that are already sold over the counter. That’s it.”
Many of these devices, he writes, have been available for years to the public.
What the new OTC law means for you
So, what does having access to PSAPs mean for you?
First, it is important to consider your level of hearing loss. While people have used PSAPs for years to enhance bird-watching or to eavesdrop, PSAPs are not an ideal treatment for hearing loss.
“Greater degrees of hearing loss are serious medical conditions with broader health implications,” ASHA President Gail J. Richard said in a recent statement. “People who experience greater than a mild degree of hearing loss could take the misguided step of trying to seek relief via OTC solutions. A better course of care would involve treatment overseen by a certified and licensed audiologist.”
Unlike PSAPs, hearing aids are sophisticated, highly-customized devices tailored to a user’s specific hearing deficits. While PSAPs amplify all sounds, hearing aids are programmed to amplify only the sounds a user cannot hear well.
“This [customization that hearing aids offer] is necessary because of the complexity of hearing loss – its causes, its severity and type, and the possibility of related illnesses,” writes Sociask.
The dangers of OTC hearing devices
Because PSAPs amplify all sounds, they can actually cause more harm than good to the users. In their recent piece for TheHill.com, Dr. Larry E. Humes and Judy R. Dubno write, “This new category of OTC devices should not be used as a replacement for hearing aids.”
If all sounds are amplified, it can end up causing more damage—which is what happened with David McKinley, a representative from West Virginia.
“During a recent congressional hearing, Rep. David McKinley, who has hearing loss, shared his personal story, in which he significantly damaged his own hearing by self-treating with an amplification device rather than consulting with a medical professional,” writes Sociask.
The best treatment for hearing loss? Talk to a professional.
When it comes to your hearing, the best (and safest) option is to consult your audiologist or Hearing Care Professional for a diagnosis and treatment plan of your unique hearing loss patterns. Hearing care centers like Connect Hearing offer FREE hearing screenings and audiogram readings.
As Pociask writes, “Buying a PSAP on your own, jamming it into your ear and turning up the volume is an overly simplistic way to treat hearing loss, and could be very dangerous.”
Remember, your hearing is precious, and can’t be fully restored once it is lost—which is why it is imperative to choose hearing care tailored to your needs.
If you have questions, or want to know more about how to ensure you get the best care, our friendly Hearing Care Professionals will be happy to assist you.
Don’t forget—you can take a FREE online hearing test right now and get your results instantly.
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