What over-the-counter hearing aids would mean for consumers

Federal health officials are laying out a new plan that would let most people purchase hearing aids without a prescription. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration unveiled the landmark proposal with hopes of making the devices more accessible to those who have mild to moderate hearing loss. Under the new plan, one would be able to buy hearing aids over the counter at the pharmacy, other retail stores, or even order them online.

Katherine Bouton is the author of Shouting Won't Help, a memoir about coping with adult-onset hearing loss. After years of ignoring her hearing loss, Bouton had to get a cochlear implant in her left ear.

"It benefits the actual people who are going to be wearing those hearing aids and it benefits the rest of us because it helps to normalize hearing loss," she said.

RELATED: FDA unveils proposal for over-the-counter hearing aids

The FDA says 15% of American adults — or roughly 37.5 million people — have at least some trouble hearing. The agency also says that only one in every five people who can benefit from hearing aids actually uses them.

"There are some access issues in multiple areas of the United States for the hearing aid, and also, there is a problem of the finance and the coverage of that," Dr. George Wanna, the chief of otology and neurotology at the Mount Sinai Health System, told FOX 5 NY. 

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For decades, the FDA has regulated hearing aids as a prescription medical device but insurance companies usually don't cover them.

The new proposal would create competition and bring down prices, potentially saving consumers thousands of dollars.

Wanna said he is on board with the plan as long as his patients rule out any serious or potentially life-threatening causes of hearing loss first.

"Hearing loss can be a sign of some serious disease, very rarely, but it can be," he said.

 There isn't a timeline yet for when consumers may be able to buy hearing aids over the counter but the FDA proposal is now up for 90 days of public comment.