Hearing aids could be big business — and Big Tech is all ears

The FDA introduced a rule that would allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter, and Big Tech wants in on the action.

Photo by: BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When you think about hearing aids, you probably picture the traditional beige variety that wraps around the ear. Thanks to a new rule proposed by the FDA, that could be changing soon.

The rule would allow consumers to purchase hearing aids over the counter without a prescription, per The New York Times.

Hearing loss is a widespread problem

Around 38m adults in the US experience some degree of hearing loss, and the vast majority don’t use hearing aids. This is likely due to the hurdles to getting them:

  • Access: Consumers traditionally need a prescription, which requires tests and fittings
  • Price: Hearing aids cost $5k on average since they aren’t covered by Medicare or many private health insurance plans

The new rule would help make hearing aids more accessible and drive competition in the market, which would lower the cost.

While those with severe hearing loss will still need prescription devices…

… mild hearing loss is an untapped market, with only 10% penetration today. Tech companies are already waiting in the wings:

  • Apple recently announced it’s exploring ways to use AirPods to enhance hearing
  • Bose developed a hearing device that it plans to sell once the FDA makes the rule official

Participation from high-quality hardware manufacturers could also raise the baseline for nonprescription hearing products (many existing options are poor quality).

The rule could lead to ancillary benefits

Beyond helping those with hearing loss, other benefits include:

  • Increasing consumer education about hearing loss
  • Eliminating the stigma of hearing aids with sleeker designs
  • Making hearing loss services like tests and treatments more readily available

Given Big Tech’s seemingly endless struggle against bad press, hearing loss is one market that could be a win-win for all parties.

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