June 25, 2015—Did you miss the cheers going up from the hearing impaired section of the globe? Some good news has come to light for people with hearing loss in the last six months. In case you missed it, here are five things to be happy about if you or someone you love suffers from degraded hearing.
1. The Hearing Aid Tax Credit. Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in April and in the Senate in January, this law would grant a tax credit of $500 per ear for hearing aids every five years. For most people that would work out to $1000 (since most folks need aids in both ears) every five years—a far sight better than the $0 that Medicare and most insurers provide for hearing aids. Visit www.hearingaidtaxcredit.org for info and to write your Congressperson.
2. The Medicare Audiology Services Enhancement Act. Introduced earlier this month by Florida Congressman Gus Bilirakis, this law would allow Medicare patients access to audiology services beyond the diagnostic tests currently covered. That means coverage for auditory treatment and auditory rehabilitation services, vestibular (balance and dizziness) treatment and other advanced procedures. It’s one step closer to hearing loss being treated like any other health issue.
3. The “Hearing Aid Effect” is waning. Remember that research from 1977 showing that people assign negative attributes to individuals wearing hearing aids? Well, new research published in November shows that that particular stigma is blessedly on the decline as hearing aids become more aesthetically pleasing and devices like earbuds become more common. In fact, in some cases those with hearing aids are viewed more favorably than others; in a study by Catherine Palmer and Erik Rauterkus, subjects rated individuals wearing a standard-sized behind-the-ear hearing aid as “significantly more trustworthy” than those sporting Bluetooth communications devices.
4. A new drug for tinnitus and epilepsy? Maybe so. Neurophysiologists at the University of Connecticut have found a drug that may treat epilepsy while preventing tinnitus, both of which are caused when overactive cells send too many signals into the brain and the body cannot send out enough potassium to snuff them out. The new drug is closely related to an approved epilepsy drug called retigabine, but it acts more selectively on the body’s potassium channels, thereby avoiding retigabine’s rather rough side effects (which can include the skin and eyes turning blue). Hearing Review reports that FDA trials are in the works.
5. Technology. The startup boom may be a bubble, but it has some definite upsides. One is that a plethora of technological solutions to hearing loss have hit the market in the last year or two. A device that translates speech into text for the hard-of-hearing and a hearing aid that reads lips may seem like gadgets from the future, but in many cases they are already here. —Traci Hukill