Hearing aids are changing. Your users are too. (2023)

Hearing aids are changing. Your users are too. (1)

Skip to content

As more and more young people are at risk of hearing loss, over-the-counter hearing aids offer new but confusing options.

Credit...Justin Kaneps for the New York Times

Supported by

Continue reading the main story

  • Send each friend a story

    As a subscriber, you have10 types of giftsto give every month. Everyone can read what you share.

Read in Spanish

Ayla Wing's seniors don't always know what to do with their 26-year-old teacher's hearing aids. The most common response he hears: "Oh, my grandmother has them too."

But grandma's hearing aids have never been like this: Bluetooth-enabled and connected to her phone, they allowed Ms. Wing to switch between custom settings with a touch. She can tune out the world on a subway ride, hear her friends in loud bars when going out, and understand her students even better by switching to "pouting kids."

There have been a number of new hearing aids on the market in recent years that tend to appeal to a generation of young adults that some experts say are bothDevelop hearing problems earlier in lifeand, perhaps surprisingly, feel more comfortable with expensive technology pumping sound into their ears.

Some of the new models, including the Ms. Wing's, are made from traditional prescription brands that usually require a visit to a specialist. However, the Food and Drug Administration opened up the market last year when it allowed hearing aids to be sold without a prescription. In response, brands like Sony and Jabra began releasing their own products, complementing the new wave of designs and features aimed at young consumers.

"These new hearing aids are sexy," said Pete Bilzerian, a 25-year-old from Richmond, Virginia, who has worn the devices since he was seven. He describes his early models as downright unsexy: "big, fancy, tan hearing aids with a shape that stretches around the ear." However, these are increasingly giving way to slimmer, smaller models with more technological capabilities.

Nowadays, he said, no one seems to pay attention to the electronics in their ears. "If it ever pops up, I'll just unscrew it and be like, 'Hey, I have these really expensive AirPods.'

More people in Mr. Bilzerian's age group may need the similarly priced AirPods, experts say. By the age of 30, it is about a fifth of today's Americanswere hearing impairedfrom noise, as recently estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This number will be added to the one alreadyessentialAdolescents with hearing loss due to genetic or medical conditions.


Hearing aids are changing. Your users are too. (3)

The exact number of young adults who need or use hearing aids is difficult to quantify, but both device manufacturers and medical experts say the population is growing. Phonak, the leading maker of prescription devices, says the number of Americans ages 22 to 54 fitted with the company's hearing aids increased 14 percent between 2017 and 2021, faster than the increase in users of all other age groups .

“Anecdotally, over the last decade we've seen more young people seek out hearing protection. That seems a lot more mainstream, which is great," said Dr. Catherine V. Palmer, director of audiology and audiology at the University of Pittsburgh Children's Hospital and Medical Center.

Experts say there are several reasons hearing aids are closing the generation gap. As technology has progressed, so have attitudes, which has resulted in more and more young people willing to try it. And a growing number of 20-year-olds may need them as they navigate an increasingly noisy world. According to the World Health Organization, more than a billion young people worldwide are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

However, significant obstacles remain: Hearing aids are expensive — especially for people who don't have good health insurance — costing $1,000 or more in most cases. And the options can be confusing and difficult to navigate. Many models still need to be prescribed by an audiologist. And while the stigma may be fading, it's not entirely gone.

Data collected in 1989 by MarkeTrak, a consumer research organization owned by Hearing Industries of America, suggests that people who wore hearing aids were "perceived as less able-bodied, less attractive, less young, and more disabled." But today the organizationhe said in a recent reportHearing aid wearers “rarely if ever feel shame or rejection”.

While the advent of over-the-counter hearing aids has opened up new opportunities, it has also made it more difficult to enter the market. There are dozens of brands to choose from, from small in-ear models to those that wear long metal brackets around the ear. Most new models have Bluetooth streaming capabilities. And some of the over-the-counter options can even be ordered online with free shipping.

  1. Brian Kaiser for the New York Times
  2. Brian Kaiser for the New York Times
  3. Brian Kaiser for the New York Times
  4. Brian Kaiser for the New York Times
  5. Brian Kaiser for the New York Times
  6. Brian Kaiser for the New York Times

created by Blake CadwellAudio, a website that allows users to compare hearing aid brands and prices after trying to navigate the complex market on their own.

"The main thing I faced when I started the process was not knowing where or how to start, just figuring out what the path should be like," said Mr. Cadwell, 32, who lives in Los Angeles.

Also easyreceive a diagnosis of hearing lossit might be difficult. People who are concerned about their hearing may first see an ear, nose and throat specialist, and many are referred to audiologists or hearing clinics, where they do a mix of hearing tests, physical exams, or imaging tests.

Juliann Zhou, a 22-year-old international student at New York University, was urged to have her ears checked after she was bothered by a loud ringing sound, which she diagnosed as tinnitus due to a moderate hearing loss. However, it was not sold for hearing aids. An audiologist in the US recommended them, but her parents and GP in China told her they were "for the elderly only."

"I just don't know if it's necessary," he said.

Ms. Zhou says she "probably listened to music that was too loud," which led to hearing problems. It's an increasingly common problem, according to the Hearing Loss Association, which has identified noise-induced hearing loss as a growing public health crisis.

Although no long-term follow-up data is available, the association estimates that 12.5 percent of Americans between the ages of 6 and 19 have a hearing loss from listening to loud music, particularly through headphones at an unsafe volume.

For those who need them, the new wave of over-the-counter aids may be more affordable than many prescription models. That makes them a good first choice for more young people, said Zina Jawadi, 27, who has been wearing hearing aids since she was four and is a medical student at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"It's one of the biggest things I've seen in this field in a long time," he said.


Ms. Wing, the middle school teacher, said she made the decision to buy her new hearing aids just months before she turned 26 and lost access to her parents' health insurance. Otherwise, the $4,000 prescription hearing aids wouldn't be affordable, he said.

Ms. Wing was concerned about the durability and effectiveness of the over-the-counter remedies compared to the prescription pair, which she expects to last at least five years.

"I also wear glasses, and not only can I get reading glasses from CVS, I have to get them from the optometrist," she said. "The same goes for my headphones."

Ms Wing said she has many colleagues in their 40s and 50s who could probably benefit from hearing aids but were concerned about negative perceptions. He's trying to resolve that.

"I tell everyone I know I have hearing aids," Ms. Wing said, "just to make it less stigmatizing."


Continue reading the main story

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Manual Maggio

Last Updated: 05/17/2023

Views: 6274

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (49 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Manual Maggio

Birthday: 1998-01-20

Address: 359 Kelvin Stream, Lake Eldonview, MT 33517-1242

Phone: +577037762465

Job: Product Hospitality Supervisor

Hobby: Gardening, Web surfing, Video gaming, Amateur radio, Flag Football, Reading, Table tennis

Introduction: My name is Manual Maggio, I am a thankful, tender, adventurous, delightful, fantastic, proud, graceful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.