Illustration depicting the world in connection to an ear
HEARING AIDS

Honor World Hearing Day and Take Your First Steps Toward Better Hearing

BY EARGO - FEBRUARY 27, 2024

 

 

Join Eargo and the World Health Organization on March 3, 2024 to support World Hearing Day (WHD) and its mission to raise awareness about hearing loss and promote ear and hearing care around the globe. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States, making it twice as prevalent as diabetes or cancer. So the 2024 WHD theme of ensuring equitable access to hearing care resonates more deeply than ever, reminding us how important it is to take action to support and address hearing loss.

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If you’re affected by hearing loss, you’re not alone, and it’s time to go from just thinking about taking action to actually doing something about your hearing loss. But where to start? The good news is that you have the power and options available to take control of your hearing wellness.

One of the most effective options available is a hearing aid, the impact of which could be transformative in your life. But we know the hearing aid landscape can be vast and confusing, and not all hearing aids are created equal. 

Let us guide you through some of the most basic considerations of wearing modern hearing aids so you can make the informed choice that best suits you and your needs. We’ll cover key differences between over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids and traditional ones and what to consider when selecting a hearing aid.

OTC Hearing Aids vs. Traditional Hearing Aids

OTC hearing aids and traditional hearing aids both serve the same basic purpose—to help address some of the symptoms of hearing loss. But there are some key distinctions between them, including the degree of hearing loss addressed, specific regulations around access, device customization and fit, and ongoing hearing aid support.

Your Degree of Hearing Loss

Your specific degree of hearing loss may impact the hearing aids available to you. OTC hearing devices, such as those made by Eargo, are designed to help address mild to moderate hearing loss. In comparison, traditional hearing aids are the sole hearing aid option for individuals with severe or profound hearing loss since complex hearing loss patterns understandably require more customized and expert support.

When the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) handed down its 2022 landmark ruling to establish OTC devices as a separate category from prescription hearing aids, it increased access to hearing devices for the growing populations affected by mild and moderate hearing loss. As of 2024, more than 37 million Americans have mild hearing loss, a figure that’s increased from more than 25 million in 2016.

Federal Regulations Around Access

Anyone 18 or older can purchase OTC hearing aids directly from a retailer, pharmacy, or online vendor. Traditional hearing aids, however, require that you visit with a health care provider to receive a professional evaluation and obtain a prescription. 

For many, the convenience, easy access, and autonomy associated with OTC hearing aids are major benefits. “I’ve seen firsthand how the simplicity and convenience of OTC hearing devices can provide an accessible option to users with hearing loss,” says Bill Brownie, COO and interim CEO of Eargo. “By bypassing the need for a prescription, individuals can take control of their hearing health themselves. For many, that can be the push they need to prioritize their well-being and build their confidence.”

Depending on where you live, you might also be required to buy your prescription hearing aid directly from a licensed point of sale. Keep in mind, you must return to your health care provider for your first fitting or a series of fittings to start using your prescription hearing aids, whereas certain “self-fitting” OTC hearing devices allow you to do this yourself at home.

Customization and Fit

When it comes to OTC hearing aids versus traditional hearing aids, there are major differences in how you can or cannot customize and fit the device for your use. 

Some OTC hearing devices, but not all, have been approved by the FDA as “self-fitting.” The FDA defines self-fitting hearing aids as devices “that have greater customization through technology such as hearing tests, software, and smartphone apps.”

It makes sense then that the FDA holds self-fitting OTC hearing aids to higher standards than it does non-self-fitting ones. While basic OTC hearing aids may come with existing presets you can choose from, they don’t allow you to take the customization any further. Alternatively, self-fitting devices must provide users with a way to adjust the settings or programs independently (for example, via a mobile app). This can allow for greater flexibility and customization to your individual hearing needs on your own time and in your place of choice.

In contrast to OTC hearing aids, traditional ones can only be fitted by licensed professionals, meaning you rely on the professional to assess the product’s physical fit and make the programming adjustments for you based on your feedback. 

People who would be more comfortable with an in-person fitting and in-person conversation about their hearing aids may find that visiting a licensed professional for a fitting puts their mind at ease. Others, if they like taking their personal comfort into their own hands, may instead might prefer the flexibility that an OTC hearing aid can provide.

Also, some OTC hearing aid brands offer options for you to customize the physical fit of your devices. After all, ear canals come in different shapes and sizes. These may look like different eartips (the part of the hearing aid that enters the canal first) you can switch out on your own to improve your comfort. In the setting of a fitting by a licensed professional, the professional would be the one to make these adjustments for you, or they might help you return the device to the manufacturer so that parts can be exchanged.

Ongoing Hearing Aid Support

Keep in mind, the level of support you’ll receive with an OTC hearing aid will vary depending on the brand. This can range from zero support to remote support to in-person help at a brick-and-mortar location. Remote support might include help via live phone conversation, online chat or email, or it could mean telehealth support (such as through video conferencing). At Eargo, we’ve observed how customer support is a key factor in successfully integrating a device into the user’s life, which is why we offer multiple forms of remote support with the purchase of our OTC devices.

With traditional hearing aids, you might have multiple appointments or follow-ups with a hearing professional for everything from the initial fitting and programming to minor and major adjustments, maintenance, and troubleshooting. Some people prefer this level of support and face-to-face interaction. Think about what will be the most convenient for your lifestyle and give you peace of mind.

FDA-Registered vs. FDA-Approved Hearing Devices

Hearing aids are medical devices that require FDA regulation around their performance, manufacturing, labeling, and safety. As you’re shopping around, you may come across the terms “FDA-registered” and “FDA-approved” and wonder: What’s the difference?

The terms aren’t interchangeable and in fact reflect completely different standards, with FDA-approved devices needing to meet stricter requirements.

FDA registration merely indicates a device’s listing and labeling is in compliance with FDA regulations, whereas an FDA-approved device has been rigorously reviewed by the FDA. FDA approval requires brands to submit clinical data, scientific evidence, manufacturing information, and details about the product’s marketing and distribution.

As a final note, be aware of devices that are personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) or general amplifiers that make everything louder, not clearer. PSAPs are not hearing aids and are not designed to help people with hearing loss. Therefore, they don’t have to meet the same standards as hearing aids. You can’t adjust a PSAP to your individual hearing loss pattern or use it to add clarity for a particular frequency. Instead, a PSAP amplifies all sounds indiscriminately.

Hearing Aid Features to Consider

Embracing better hearing means focusing on what you can control versus what you can’t, as well as opening yourself up to opportunities for growth and adaptation. Think of using a hearing aid as just one way you can take charge of your hearing health.

If you’ll be a first-time hearing aid user, you may not know what to look for or consider. Below are some key features to think about when trying to determine what will best fit your needs and lifestyle.

Aesthetics

Choose a hearing aid style that matches your hearing needs, personal preferences, and lifestyle. How important is it to you that your hearing aid be inconspicuous? Certain styles, such as behind-the-ear (BTE) or receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids may be more visible when worn compared to completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aids, which are very small and rest inside your ear canal with a pull tab for easy removal of the device. Certain CIC hearing aids, such as Eargo’s self-fitting OTC hearing aids, are so discreet that other people might not even know you’re wearing them. 

“Discreet hearing aids can have a profound effect on individuals who, in the past, have hesitated to seek help due to concerns about visibility,” says Tim Trine, CTO of Eargo. “The inconspicuous nature of these devices addresses both their hearing needs and their desire for discretion. This can empower a person to prioritize their hearing health without compromising their confidence or self-image.”

side-by-side images of BTE, RIC, and Eargo CIC hearing aids

Comfort

Look for hearing aids that are comfortable to wear for extended periods. Consider the size and shape of the device, variety of sizing options for fit, as well as the materials used in its construction. For example, Eargo offers open or closed “Petals” (eartips) in different sizes to provide users greater flexibility for fit and sound preferences.

Performance

Focus on the performance capabilities of the hearing aid, including its ability to improve speech clarity in different situations. Hearing aids may feature directional microphones for better speech understanding in noisy situations, noise reduction technology to minimize background noise, and feedback cancellation to prevent whistling or feedback. Certain hearing aids may also utilize proprietary technology to customize your individual listening preferences for each ear, which can be helpful as you move from one listening environment to the next.

Battery Life

Consider whether you prefer a hearing aid that uses disposable batteries or is rechargeable. Traditionally, hearing aids have typically used tiny batteries, such as 312 batteries, that you have to change every several days or every few weeks. If this is the kind of hearing aid you choose, you will need to factor the ongoing cost of batteries into your investment.

Many modern hearing aids are now conveniently rechargeable. This eliminates the need to replace the batteries frequently, although you do have to charge them regularly (for example, overnight). Rechargeable hearing aids usually come with a dock or case you have to place them in so they can charge.

Bluetooth Connectivity

There can be confusion around the term “Bluetooth hearing aids” since not all Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids allow for streaming. 

Some Bluetooth hearing aids can connect wirelessly to other compatible Bluetooth devices, such as a smartphone, to allow for customization. Depending on the make and model of the hearing aid, however, it may or may not also be able to stream audio from these same Bluetooth-enabled devices or others, such as TVs or intermediary devices.

A Bluetooth-enabled hearing aid with streaming capabilities, like LINK by Eargo, allows you to stream audio (such as phone calls or music) directly from your compatible device.

Bluetooth capabilities used to only be available in prescription hearing aids and came with a price tag that was cost prohibitive for some people. More OTC hearing aids have become available recently that feature Bluetooth technology, especially following the FDA’s formation of the new OTC hearing aid category in 2022.

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Price

In the U.S., the cost for a pair of hearing aids is $2,500 on average. While looking at different devices, consider your budget and the overall value the hearing aid will provide to you. Do you have insurance or other benefits that you may be able to apply toward your purchase?

Additionally, consider again which features are important to you, such as those related to the style, comfort, audio quality, and battery. You’ll likely wear your hearing aids for several hours each day, so it’s imperative you find them comfortable and effective and instead feel good about your purchase. You have a greater chance of benefiting from your hearing aids if you wear them regularly and feel comfortable doing so.

“Wearing hearing aids regularly is the key to experiencing the most benefit,” says Deb Corti, Sr. Director of Product at Eargo. “Consistent usage allows your brain to adapt and interpret sounds more efficiently over time. Just as you wouldn’t expect optimal results from intermittently wearing glasses or contact lenses, regular wear of hearing aids ensures a more seamless integration into your daily life.”

Durability

A hearing aid is an investment that you want to hold up regardless of what your day brings. How important is it to you that your hearing aids be able to stand up to a little moisture? For example, if you plan to encounter some splashes or get sweaty at the gym, consider looking into hearing aids that are sweat- or water-resistant. This could be just one more piece of the puzzle for you when it comes to wearing your hearing aids with confidence each day.

Additionally, consider whether or not the device has a warranty, and if so, what it encompasses and for what length of time. This may go hand in hand with thinking about how easy or difficult it could be to replace parts or perform regular maintenance on your hearing aids. 

With some OTC hearing devices, this might be as simple as reaching out to the brand’s customer support team to ask for a replacement part or a device exchange. In other instances, however, your only option may be to cover the cost of a new device yourself. With traditional devices, you may be required to return to a licensed professional who will either perform the necessary maintenance for you or facilitate the process between you and the manufacturer.

When it comes to hearing aid options in durability, the choice is ultimately yours, as with the other considerations we’ve reviewed here.

As you begin your journey toward better hearing, remember that you don’t have to figure out everything alone. Although the thought of wearing hearing aids may seem daunting at first, we’re here to help you navigate the complexities of hearing loss and take your first steps toward all the benefits a hearing aid can bring to your life.

On this World Hearing Day, join us in promoting equitable access to ear and hearing care for all. Let's break down barriers and empower one another to take control of our hearing health. Together, we can create a world where everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of sound and live life to the fullest.