If you suspect you’re experiencing hearing loss, making an appointment with an audiologist and purchasing hearing aids feels like the natural course of action. However, because some people experience only minor amounts of hearing loss, this could be a premature and unnecessarily costly decision.
Hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars, and some Medicare plans don’t cover this service. So, what else can you do?
Over-the-counter hearing aids. Congress passed new legislation in 2017 that allows some types of hearing aids to be sold over-the-counter, without a prescription. Those products have yet to hit stores, as the FDA is working under a deadline of August 2021 to issue guidelines for their sale. But we can expect hearing aids for mild hearing loss to be sold in stores later this year, or possibly early 2022, and presumably for a more affordable price than prescription versions.
High-tech earbuds. Called “hearables”, some tech companies have begun to produce ear buds with mild “hearing enhancement” effects for users. These enhancements essentially increase the volume of sounds within your environment. The higher-quality versions of these products are available for around $300.
Experts do caution that because these devices work by amplifying sound, they could actually damage your hearing if you’re wearing them in the event of sudden loud noises, such as sirens. These products might be better used only in certain situations during which you find it difficult to hear.
Your phone. Both iPhones and Android smartphones have begun to incorporate features that use your phone’s microphone to amplify conversations in noisy environments. On iPhone this feature is called LiveListen; on Android phones it is called HeardThat.
Pair your phone with Bluetooth earbuds, turn on the amplifying app, and place your phone close to the person with whom you are speaking. If your hearing loss mostly affects conversations when background noise is present, this innovation could solve your problem!
Of course, if you suspect more serious hearing loss, it’s time to visit an audiologist. Ask your physician for a referral and call your insurance company if you have questions about coverage.