Over-the-counter hearing aids

The U.S. FDA eases access to hearing aids, paving the way for new, cheaper hearing aid designs

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Wednesday that it removed the need for individuals >18 years of age to undergo medical evaluation before acquiring hearing aids, and that a new category of over-the-counter hearing aids will be created. By deregulating access to these devices, the decision might not only improve accessibility to hearing aids for the ~30 million people in the US with varying degrees of hearing loss, but is also thought to stimulate the innovation and design of new, cheaper hearing aid devices to be used around the world.

Despite the huge advances in recent years in electronic technology and connectivity, hearing aid equipment are surprisingly underdeveloped and ineffective, yet still remain expensive (currently, hearing aid devices can cost over $2,000 a piece). Common complaints from users include poor device performance, physical misfitting and difficulties in operating the device, particularly for individuals with limited hand dexterity. According to the US President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, improvements such as wireless functionality to enable connectivity with devices such as smartphones, 3D-printed personalized ear pieces for improved comfort, or sound filtering software to improve sound quality are among the many possible new features in next-generation hearing devices.

FDA takes steps to improve hearing aid accessibility. US FDA, Department of Health and Human Services Press Release, 07/12/2016.

Further reading:
US President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (Letter to the President), October 2015.
S. Reinfeldt et al. New developments in bone-conduction hearing implants: a review. Med Devices (Auckl) 2015. doi:10.2147/MDER.S39691

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João Duarte

Senior Editor, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Portfolio


Go to the profile of João Duarte
about 5 years ago
For further reading on the topic, see this feature article by David Owen, staff writer at The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/03/high-tech-hope-for-the-hard-of-hearing