Over-the-counter hearing aids easy to get in Florida. here’s how

Over-the-counter hearing aids easy to get in Florida.  here's how

Anyone in Florida can now walk into a store or search on the Internet and buy hearing aids.

This big change in how hearing aids can be purchased comes after a Food and Drug Administration decision in August that allows for over-the-counter sales of devices without the need to first see a doctor or get a prescription.

With that change comes a big marketing shift, with new devices aimed at people of all ages who have mild or moderate hearing loss rather than the severe loss that typically has sent Florida seniors seeking hearing aids.

Experts say more devices with more features will come onto the market as a result, aiming to appeal to the millions of people who can benefit from hearing aids but traditionally have avoided them.

“I think you are going to see more innovation,” said Brian Maguire, senior vice president and director of North America for Lexie Hearing. “With increased competition there are always breakthroughs over time. The industry needs to deliver value.”

Do you have trouble hearing conversations on the phone or in crowded restaurants? Are you turning up the volume so loud on the television that your family members complain? Does it sound like people are mumbling all the time and you’re asking them to repeat themselves?

If you do, you can take a hearing test online to determine whether you would benefit from hearing aids. There are many sites online that offer the tests, including most hearing aid manufacturers.

The over-the-counter devices are intended only for people with moderate or mild hearing loss. Those who have severe hearing loss in one or both ears will need prescription aids.

“Some hearing loses could be signs of serious medical issues or infections, so it’s a good idea to start with doctor to make sure you are okay,” said Dr. Eloy Villasuso, an otolaryngologist at Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston.

Prescription hearing aids typically have been costly — selling for an average of $5,000 in addition to the cost of a medical exam and fitting.

The over-the-counter option is intended to make the devices more accessible and less expensive.

For example, Walgreens on Monday started selling over-the-counter hearing aids online and at its stores nationwide for as low as $799 a pair.

The FDA has certain requirements for aids sold over the counter: They must have user-adjusted volume controls and a lower maximum volume to prevent over-amplification

Retailers with stores in Florida — like Walgreens, CVS, Best Buy, Walmart and Costco — will sell hearing aids over the counter and offer choices. Some began selling the hearing aids on Monday.

Maguire of Lexie Hearing said his company has three products that will be available in pharmacies and retail stores. In pharmacies, the hearing aids will be sold in the ear-and-eye-care aisle, and in Walmart it will be sold in the vision centers. The devices also will be sold online on Amazon, he said.

CVS is selling over-the-counter devices on its website with prices ranging from $199 to $999. Best Buy is selling them with prices ranging from $299 to $1,699.

Prescription hearing aids average $5,000, according to research from AARP.

The White House estimates the change in how hearing aids are sold will save people nearly $3,000 per pair.

Medicare and most private insurances don’t cover the cost of hearing aids. But many private Medicare Advantage plans do.

It will be up to you, the buyer, to do your research and read product information and reviews. You will want to learn how the device work, what type of amplification you get, and if you can take the hearing aid back for a different model if necessary.

“They are going to have a wider range in function from basic to advanced,” said Villasuso at Cleveland Clinic Florida. “People will need to be careful when they are comparing so that it’s apples to apples.”

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Villasuso said while doing research, also try to gain an understand of how hearing aids perform. “You may purchase over-the-counter hearing aids and they may not live up to your expectations because no one set what those expectations were.”

Companies in both consumer electronics and digital health are buzzing about how technology will benefit moderate to mild hearing loss. Until now, advancements have been slow in coming. But in anticipation of the FDA ruling, companies like Sony and Bose have partnered with hearing-aid manufacturers. Most of the new devices pair with smartphone apps.

Danny Aronson, CEO of Tuned, a digital hearing company based in New York City, told Modern Healthcare: “It’s a fundamental game changing shift in an industry that for decades has been completely dominated by an oligopoly of five hearing aid manufacturers.”

WS Audiology, a multi-billion-dollar Danish hearing aid manufacturer, is partnering with Sony to launch devices that will be sold through Amazon and Best Buy. Lexie Hearing, Maguire’s company, is partnering with Bose for its new products. Its new Lexie B2, powered by Bose, has a rechargeable battery and can be self-tuned through the Lexie app.

Maguire urges consumers to look for brands that offer free remote customer support. “We just extended our hours to offer phone or video help six days a week.”

However, if you try the over-the-counter hearing aids and still have a hard time hearing, consider an evaluation by a doctor or audiologist. Hearing loss is a risk factor for falls, dementia and depression.

Sun Sentinel heath reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at cgoodman@sunsentinel.com.

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