Hearing aids to be made available without a prescription this fall

In mid-October, hearing aids could start to appear on store shelves without a prescription.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final rule allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter. The FDA estimates that nearly 30 million adults could potentially benefit from a hearing aid, though only about one-fifth of people with hearing problems currently use one.

These over-the-counter devices are meant for mild-to-moderate hearing loss, so they aren’t meant for people with severe hearing problems. The goal is to bring down costs. Insurance coverage of hearing aids is limited, so it can cost thousands between the device and getting it fitted.

The Minnesota Commission for the Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing told FOX 9 in a statement, "the Commission supports OTC hearing aids and believes this will increase access to hearing health care coverage for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. We are thrilled that the FDA has finalized their rule."

The commission told FOX 9 it hopes the FDA’s ruling also continues the trend of improved access to health care, including urging Medicare to cover the costs of hearing aids and expanded insurance coverage on hearing aids.

At her Osseo-based clinic Hearing Health Clinic, it takes two hours for Dr. Heidi Hill to perform a complete assessment on a patient's hearing to understand the problems they're having and why.

"The majority of people with hearing impairment wait at least 10 years until they treat their hearing loss, and that is way too long," Hill said.

A doctor of audiology, Dr. Hill also runs the non-profit Hearing the Call-Twin Cities, which helps people who can't afford it get fit for hearing aids and other hearing health care.

In a move meant to make the devices more affordable, the FDA cleared the way for millions of Americans to buy hearing aids over the counter.

"Hearing is finally getting the attention it deserves. Hearing's been linked to many physical and cognitive impairments, and so treating hearing loss and treating hearing loss early is really important," she explained.

Dr. Hill hopes people will now get help sooner if they're struggling to hear.

"I really hope to see the stigma of wearing hearing aids declines significantly," Dr. Hill said.

She also has some concerns though, so she's cautioning people to at least have a diagnosis before buying hearing aids over the counter. She wants people to recognize that these devices needed to be fitted properly and they take a lot of hands-on care.

"I have some patients who actually come in once a week for us to clean their devices because they can't and they get plugged and then they can't hear," she explained. "Studies have shown over and over again that when people self-fit, they either over-fit or they under-fit. And if you under fit, you're depriving your brain of really important information."

Dr. Hill also wants people to be aware that hearing loss could be indicative of another medical condition that needs to be treated.

The AP contributed to this story.