Doctor wants to make hearing aids available over the counter

FOX 32 NEWS - It’s estimated that 48-million Americans are said to suffer from some form of hearing loss, but as many as 80 percent of them won't turn to hearing aids partly because of the high cost.

Now, there's a push to change that and one Chicago doctors is trying to lead the charge.

Linda Irving has just recently started wearing hearing aids.

"You don't realize the sounds you are missing until you hear them again,” Irving said.

Irving never considered purchasing hearing aids because they're not covered by Medicaid or most health insurance companies and she says the cost was just too expensive.

Then, she met Dr. Sreek Cherukuri.

Dr. Cherukuri is a board certified Otolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat doctor. He wants hearing aids to not only be more affordable, but also eventually available over the counter. He says the average cost of one hearing aid is over $2000 and most people need two.

"You can imagine a $5000 hearing aid has no more than $300 worth of components, and there's not many products with that kind of markeup in the US at all,” Dr. Cherukuri said.

Dr. Cherukuri says it's more than just being able to hear. Recent studies have linked hearing loss to numerous health conditions, including depression, anxiety, social isolation, falling and even dementia.

After medical school, Dr. Cherukuri made it his mission to come up with affordable high quality hearing aids that don't require a prescription and can be bought online. His company is called ‘MD Hearing Aids.’

"The vast majority of customers have a very similar configuration of hearing loss,” the doctor said. “So we programmed our hearing aids to have two, three or four different configuration settings along with a volume dial."

These hearing aids sell for $200 to $550 a piece. His newest is a rechargeable hearing aid that doesn't require batteries.

Dr. Cherukuri says ‘MD Hearing Aids’ are FDA registered as a class one medical device and are made of high quality components that you will find in more expensive, traditional hearing aids. He recommends patients first get a hearing exam to make sure they find the right fit. 

For Irving, the proof is in her rediscovery of the sounds in the world around her.

"Oh my goodness you can hear the birds and the rustle of the trees. Those things were lost,” she said.

An FDA panel recently recommended it's support of over the counter hearing aids. If that recommendation is approved, it could mean affordable over the counter hearing aids may soon be as easy to purchase at a drug store as non-prescription reading glasses are today.

Dr. Cherukuri says there are currently over the counter amplification devices sold at drugstores, but they are not considered a legitimate replacement for hearing aids by many in the medical community.

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