Explore This IssueApril 2022
—Stephanie Moody Antonio, MD
There’s also concern that some people with medical conditions that require (or respond best to) medical or surgical treatment may miss out on appropriate treatment, as they may self-treat their hearing loss with an OTC hearing aid. People with hearing loss related to cholesteatoma, brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, osteosclerosis, acoustic neuroma, or infections may find their conditions worsening if they self-treat instead of seeking medical evaluation, for example.
“When you do direct-to-consumer marketing without requiring any sort of medical clearance along the way, there’s going to be a subset of patients who don’t seek medical attention for something that’s potentially treatable or that needs intervention,” Dr. Toh said.
“I recently operated on a 30-year-old woman with an acoustic neuroma who had a slight asymmetry in her hearing,” Dr. Backous said. “If she’d purchased a hearing device instead of seeking medical attention, the acoustic neuroma may have been missed.”
Educating Patients and Community
Because widespread availability of OTC hearing aids is an inevitability, otolaryngologists have a duty to educate their patients and community about hearing loss, treatment options, and the role of healthcare professionals.
Dr. Backous said he typically sees 25 to 30 patients a day, almost all of them with some degree of hearing loss. “They don’t want to hear about hearing aids until I point them to the NIH website about dementia and hearing loss,” he said. “I tell them to call me back after they’ve looked at it if they’re interested in learning more. About 70% come back for a hearing aid evaluation.”
There are several points you’ll want to convey to your patients and community:
It’s best to seek a hearing evaluation and exam before buying a hearing aid. Although OTC hearing aids will be available to anyone age 18 and older with no physical exam or hearing evaluation required, it’s still a good idea for people to have their ears and hearing assessed by a professional. “People should get a full hearing evaluation and exam before putting any device in their ears,” Dr. Backous said. A thorough examination can reveal problems requiring treatment prior to placing a device, and chronic ear infections, acoustic neuroma, and multiple sclerosis can present with hearing loss as the only obvious symptom.