Should you consider a low-cost hearing-aid alternative?

Some personal sound amplification products may perform as well as costlier hearing aids.


Image: © shironosov/Thinkstock

If you're hearing more about hearing lately, there's a reason. In October 2015 the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report on the sorry state of hearing in the United States. In June 2016, the National Academy of Sciences came to similar conclusions. Both acknowledged that as many as 85% of people with hearing loss aren't wearing hearing aids, citing two significant barriers to better hearing — the FDA requirement for having a hearing test before you purchase a hearing aid and the cost of the devices, averaging $1,000 to $3,000 per ear.

Why hearing aids cost so much

One of the reasons hearing aids have been so expensive is that the process of adjusting them is often bundled with the cost of the devices themselves. Medicare — and most other insurers — don't cover either hearing aids or the tests required to adjust them, but they do cover a hearing and balance exam that can distinguish age-related hearing loss from a hearing impairment that stems from an underlying condition. Dr. Mark Sanders, an audiologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, recommends getting that initial exam. "Anytime you suspect you have a hearing loss, it's always best to seek out a professional to get a legitimate diagnostic test. That way, you can determine if it's necessary to get a medical evaluation by an ear, nose, and throat physician," he says.

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