BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – It can be frustrating when the medical devices we need to enjoy a better quality of life are so costly they nearly seem inaccessible.

LaTonya Miles, a Baton Rouge educator and mother of three said she was faced with this dilemma after she suddenly lost her hearing at the age of 29.

The diagnosis

My hearing suddenly declined when I was 29 years old. There was tons of testing, specialist visits and even a few hospital trips. Yet, no one cause was pinpointed.

LaTonya Miles, Baton Rouge resident

Miles says she saw multiple specialists who tried to get to the root of her medical condition.

“There was tons of testing, specialist visits and even a few hospital trips. Yet, no one cause was pinpointed. They believe a number of things could have contributed. However, I was diagnosed with Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss, which affects both of my ears.”

The change in lifestyle

Before the unexpected medical condition, Miles had a full life.

She says, “Before my hearing loss, I worked in a private school setting, then eventually became a full-time parent with the goal of continuing my volunteer work and advancing career-wise once my youngest reached school-age.”

After she lost her hearing, Miles still had a full schedule.

Between working to provide for her children, managing her home, and navigating her medical care, she had a lot on her plate.

And now, she had to do it all as a Deaf person in a world designed for hearing people.

But amid the shifting terrain of her life, Miles found an unexpected source of stability.

She discovered this in the Deaf community.

Miles says, “Many of the people that I’ve met so far in the Deaf community have been welcoming and helpful, some have become really close friends. Learning sign language and about Deaf culture is quite a journey. It’s humbling. I’m still learning, with so much left to learn but I’m grateful.”

I believe that Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people exist on a spectrum. There is no one way to be Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing, meaning we all have different abilities, preferences, as well as challenges.

LaTonya Miles, Baton Rouge resident

Her new friends played a role in helping her face the challenges triggered by her condition.

The challenges

Miles describes two of the challenges she faced, saying, “The biggest challenge for me is probably not fitting neatly into the stereotypical box (of ‘Deaf’). I use my voice, so when most people learn about my deafness they’re shocked or experience disbelief. This can be challenging when accommodations are needed. Affording hearing aids for those of us who want them is another challenge.”

Though she’d been able to cover the cost of her first pair of hearing aids, the second was a different story.

Miles says, “Every few years, the devices need to be replaced.  With changes in my circumstances, obtaining my second round of auditory equipment as a single parent was challenging, mainly due to costs. I am now in the process of obtaining devices for the third time.”

Healthcare experts say Miles’ situation is not uncommon for the hard-of-hearing and Deaf.

Ryan McGonagill, Director of Industry Research at SeniorLiving.org says a 2016 report by the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine revealed that most of the people who needed the devices couldn’t afford them, as they typically cost at least $4,000 per pair.

The OTC Hearing Aid Act

But five years after the report was released, the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, initially introduced by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Grassley, has made it possible for people to obtain hearing aids at a lower price over-the-counter (OTC) instead of only via prescription.

While this may sound like great news to people with hearing loss, some might wonder if there’s a catch.

For example, can any hearing aids can be purchased OTC? And are such OTC hearing aids really available to anyone who needs them?

McGonagill addresses this, saying, “The hearing aids sold under the act will be, more or less, the same as prescription hearing aids.”

He adds, “CVS is selling Bose hearing aids over the counter, and companies like Eargo and Lively continue to sell their hearing aids in the same fashion. Larger brands like Signia, ReSound, and Phonak, however, have yet to release over-the-counter products.”

When asked if she will purchase OTC hearing aids now that the new law is in effect, Miles said, “From what I’ve discovered so far regarding the self-fitting OTC hearing aids, I am not a candidate. It’s my understanding that they help people with mild to moderate hearing loss.”

Miles is correct in that the new law does not apply to individuals with severe hearing loss.

McGonagill confirms this, saying, “As per FDA guidelines, only people with mild to moderate hearing loss should use over-the-counter hearing aids. Those with severe or profound hearing loss will require the assistance of an audiologist or hearing health provider. And while anyone over the age of 18 can purchase OTC hearing aids, these devices will not help a deaf person.”

Despite this, Miles views the new law with optimism and says, “I’m really glad that more people who are interested may finally have the access to auditory devices that may have been out of reach before.”

Hope for the future

She also hopes this new law, coupled with other evolving aspects of culture and technology will encourage more people who need hearing aids to purchase them.

“We’re living in the day and age of ear buds. Everywhere you turn, someone has a device of some type in their ears,” Miles says. “Just maybe some who were reluctant regarding hearing aids before -due to aesthetics- may decide to get their regular hearing screening and then actually be willing to give the hearing support they need a try with the OTC option.”

For more information on the OTC Hearing Aid Act, visit: The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website