Only one in five people who would benefit from a hearing aid uses one, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. Cost, confusion about and access to hearing care, and gradual hearing loss going unrecognized are all reasons for this underutilization. Vanity also plays a role, though hearing aids continue to become smaller and sleeker.
“Having hearing loss is like you’re backing out 10 feet from a conversation,” says John Coverstone, an audiologist in New Brighton, Minnesota, and host of the AudiologyTalk podcast. “People feel more isolated,” he says.
Studies link trouble hearing with serious health consequences. Untreated hearing loss increases your risk of anxiety, depression, social isolation, falls and cognitive decline, research shows.
OTC hearing aids can help address the early stages of hearing loss as a person begins to experience hearing difficulty. By removing multiple barriers to entry—an audiology exam, a prescription and high costs—people can access this type of hearing aid faster and easier than prescription hearing aids, encouraging early intervention and, hopefully, improved health outcomes.
Pros and Cons of Buying Hearing Aids Over the Counter
While OTC hearing aids come with benefits, such as more affordable prices compared to prescription hearing aids, these devices also have a few drawbacks to consider.
Why Do Hearing Aids Matter, and What Happens When Hearing Health is Neglected?
The primary function of hearing aids is to make speech audible for those suffering from hearing loss, says Abram Bailey, a leading expert on hearing aid technology and Forbes Health Advisory Board member. According to the National Institutes of Health, almost 30 million Americans could benefit from the use of hearing aids. Unfortunately, the vast majority go without, either due to accessibility factors like cost, due to stigma or because they don’t feel they have enough of a problem to take action.
If you have hearing loss and fail to take action, there can be repercussions, says Dr. Bailey. Aside from not hearing your best, untreated hearing loss can lead to social isolation, which increases the risk of developing chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and dementia. Untreated hearing loss is also linked to anxiety, depression, dependence on others, lowered confidence and decreased earning potential.