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May 2017

Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids: The Path Forward

Author Affiliations
  • 1United States Senate, Washington, DC
JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(5):609-610. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.0464

Untreated hearing loss is a major health problem in the United States, particularly for older Americans. Approximately 48 million Americans, including half of those in their 70s, have hearing loss in at least 1 ear.1 The risk of hearing loss in older adults is about 10 to 20 times higher than the risk of heart disease and 100 times higher than the risk of cancer.2 Despite the large numbers with hearing loss, only a small share—roughly 14%, according to one analysis—actually use a hearing aid.3

Many factors are responsible for this large gap, including the lack of routine hearing screenings for older adults and social stigma that discourages people with hearing loss from seeking treatment. But the way that hearing aids are regulated and sold is also to blame for this disparity. Researchers, consumer advocates, and policymakers are demonstrating a growing interest in reforming the hearing aid market to increase access to these devices.