Why hearing aids could be the next tech bonanza

Why hearing aids could be the next tech bonanza

In mid-October, the hearing aid industry will be in the midst of a revolution, one that has been a long time coming. And it could open up a lucrative new area for tech companies and also be a boon to consumers.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Announced It would allow some hearing aids to be sold over the counter for the first time, a move that will make assistive devices much more widely available and, in all likelihood, significantly cheaper.

It’s a move that has become increasingly important as hearing loss is expected to increase dramatically in the coming decades. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that by 2030, almost 630 million people worldwide will have a hearing impairment. By 2050, that could rise to 900 million, in part due to regular exposure to loud sounds at work and in people’s personal lives (such as listening to music on headphones).

Currently, 15% of American adults (37.5 million) over the age of 18 report hearing problems.

The legislation comes with some limitations. Devices for severe hearing loss and those intended for children under the age of 18 will still require a prescription. But for the millions of people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss, buying a hearing aid can be as easy as buying a pair of reading glasses at the drug store.

They won’t be as cheap, of course, but they’ll probably be less than today’s hearing aids, which can cost up to $5,000 and are often not covered by insurance. The FDA estimated that the price of those devices could be cut in half once the rule takes effect.

“I am confident that we will see a significant reduction in prices for consumers with mild to moderate hearing loss,” said Blake Cadwell, founder and CEO of Solidlya site that allows people to compare and buy hearing aids online. “Expect simple products like the Bose B1 headphone to go on sale for $899 and more expensive devices for $1,500. In the long term, we may see even lower prices as consumers become comfortable with more self-service. For now, OTC players will have to invest heavily in education and customer service, which will keep prices above other consumer electronics.”

It is estimated that the market for hearing aids grow to $19.5 billion by 2030. And among the winners could be startups and other companies that have been working on “augmented hearing devices” in recent years. Nuheada, for example, offers the IQbuds, which claim to automatically calibrate themselves to your hearing profile. Those currently retail for $499. And ZVOX’s VoiceBuds, an FDA-registered Class One hearing aid, currently retail for less than $300.

Don’t expect the big players in the consumer tech space to be left out either.

“Established companies like Phonak and ReSound have been preparing for these guidelines and will almost certainly launch their own products in the next year or two,” Cadwell said. “In the short term, I expect brands like Lexie, which distributes Bose hearing aids, and Eargo, which makes an innovative invisible design, to benefit. Expect tech leaders like Apple and Jabra to take notice of this space in the coming months and years.”

Hearing aids have been hot medtech item at CES for years. In 2021, Oticon More won an innovation award for being the world’s first hearing aid to feature Deep Neural Network technology, which it says can deliver more refined sound that supports the brain’s natural functioning. in 2022Bose won an innovation award for its SoundControl Hearing Aids. Signia was also honored for its Bluetooth-enabled in-ear hearing aid, the Insio Charge & Go AX.

Venture capitalists have also been waiting for the FDA to make this decision. In 2020, Whisper emerged from stealth with a $35 million Series B investment round, spearheaded by Quiet Capital, bringing its total funding to $53 million. The company’s product uses artificial intelligence to adapt to different situations, such as a crowded bar or a dinner with friends.

Last year, the Olive Union hearing company got $7 million in his own round of Series B. And Eargo, in 2020, announced a $71 million Series E funding round after you present your hearing aid, which is largely invisible as it sits in your ear canal.

The FDA’s decision comes after a multi-year push by legislators and hearing aid companies to expand the category. As with corrective glasses, over-the-counter hearing aids won’t kill off the existing audiology industry, but they should expand availability and, ideally, begin to erase the stigma many people feel when it comes to hearing problems.

“Hearing loss is a critical public health problem that affects the ability of millions of Americans to communicate effectively in their daily social interactions,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, MD. in a sentence. “Establishing this new regulatory category will allow people with mild to moderate perceived hearing loss to have convenient access to a variety of safe, effective and affordable hearing aids at their neighborhood store or online.”

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