Forty-eight million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, but only a few get hearing aids—whether because of cost ($1,000-$6,000 per pair), denial of the problem, or stigma. Bypassing the trip to a doctor and making hearing aids available over the counter could get affordable products to more Americans, says the Consumer Technology Association.
How does it know? Because of the growth in a gray area of devices called personal sound amplification products. PSAPs don't have FDA approval as hearing aids, which means the makers aren't allowed to say that they help people with hearing loss, but obviously that's the intention and why people use them. PSAP sales have grown 40% since last year—to 1.5 million units and $225 million, according to a new study CTA released today. It expects the market to grow another 50% in 2018.
Bipartisan legislation sailing through Congress may further help. The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 would allow PSAP makers to finally claim that they do, in fact, help people with both mild (somewhat noticeable) and moderate (somewhat debilitating) hearing loss. CTA has set standards and today announced a logo (see below) to designate PSAPs that actually work well and won't be harmful by over-amplifying sound. The standards might serve as a guideline for the FDA if Congress approves the Over The Counter Hearing Aid Act this summer.