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Over-the-counter hearing aids are available. Make sure you know what you're buying

Starting Monday, people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss will be able to buy a pair of hearing aids over-the-counter. It’s big news because prescription hearing aids are often unaffordable and therefore inaccessible to many. 

Michele Michaels is the hearing health care program manager at the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She says more than a million Arizonans have some kind of hearing loss. "About 350,000 to 400,000 of those folks are over 60," she said.

And over-the-counter hearing aids are more affordable, starting at a couple hundred bucks. Prescription hearing aids, on the other hand, can cost thousands of dollars. Still, Michaels has some concerns. 

"The FDA did not choose to say you have to be able to let people return these. So be aware, be a smart consumer, look at the package labeling, make sure that if you buy it, you can try it for at least 30 days."

You’ll also want to check to see if you need a smartphone to program these devices. 

"Some can, some don't. And so that's important," said Michaels. "Also, consumers want to look on the packaging, because the packaging has to tell you, 'do I need a smartphone for this?' Because if you've got a little flip phone or you don't have a cellular and you've got your landline, and you buy that device, it's not going to work."

Something else to keep in mind: These over-the-counter devices are not for people under the age of 18.

Other things to consider said Michaels, "It’s not for anybody who has different hearing in their ears like one ear is better than the other where they have pressure in their ears or constant ringing in their ears, or they wake up suddenly one day and they can't hear. Those people should be getting to a doctor to get checked out."

For questions about over-the-counter hearing aids, you can visit the  Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.