Uncorrected hearing loss can contribute to social isolation, but in the US hearing aids are extremely pricey (thousands of dollars). In addition, they are not usually covered by insurance. That helps to explain why only about one-fifth of the adults who could hear better with hearing aids actually use them.
Can You Hear Better with OTC Products?
There is now a second option: a personal sound amplification product. These over-the-counter devices are less expensive and not labeled for hearing loss treatment. That means the FDA has not approved them to treat hearing impairment. But might they help you hear better?
A small study reported in JAMA compared the performance of five of these devices to that of hearing aids. The scientists found that three of them were almost as effective as actual hearing aids. On the other hand, one did not help much and the least expensive one was actually worse than nothing at all.
Which Ones Worked Well?
The Oticon Nera 2 brand hearing aid has a wholesale price of $1910. A patient would pay considerably more to have it fitted by an audiologist. In contrast, the top three personal sound amplification products cost $300 to $350: the Sound World Solutions C550+, the Soundhawk and the Etymotic BEAN.
Forty-two individuals tested each of the six devices in a sound booth with speech babble noise to mimic real-world situations such as a party or a restaurant. Without any device, the participants understood about 76 percent of the test sentences. With the hearing aid, they understood roughly 88 percent. Results for the personal sound amplification devices ranged from 87 percent (for the Sound World Solutions C550+) to 84 percent (for the Etymotic Bean). Any of these might be worth a try for a person who would like to hear better but is uncertain whether hearing aids are really necessary.