An estimated 48 million Americans have some form of hearing difficulty, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. But only about 20% of people who would benefit from a hearing aid use one.
Traditionally, they have been costly. A typical pair of hearing aids in the U.S. goes for between $2,000 and $8,000, including fitting fees and follow-up services. But a recent ruling by the Food and Drug Administration allowing for the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids could improve access for millions.
Starkey, one of the world's largest hearing aid manufacturers, says it has plans for an over-the-counter offering, too. Its device, called "Start Hearing One," will be released toward the end of 2022 and cost $899 a pair.
Stavros Basseas, co-founder and chief technology officer of manufacturer Sound World Solutions, said, "The hope is that in this country the new category will have a tremendous effect in lowering the price, not only for the over-the-counter hearing aids, which will be low, but for also the traditional hearing aids."
Over-the-counter hearing aids could help demographics beyond America's aging population. With more people tethered to their smartphones listening to music and watching videos, hearing loss is affecting younger generations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 1 in 6 U.S. teens has measurable hearing loss, likely the result of excessive noise exposure.
So why are hearing aids so costly, and what impact will over-the-counter devices have on people with impaired hearing?