HEALTH

OTC hearing aids show promise, but are just the tip of the ear care iceberg

BY Michael Johnsen

Did you hear? The ear care category is about to get a whole lot louder in terms of new product innovations following President Trump signing of the OTC Hearing Aid Act of 2017.

About 86% of Americans with hearing loss, more than 30 million people, currently go untreated, making hearing impairment one of the most common forms of disability in the country. While the Food and Drug Administration works on codifying the regulations to support OTC hearing aids — a process that suppliers said should take at least three years — ear care companies already are clamoring for shelf space with new and innovative products.

For example, iHear Medical is offering TReO, the first prescription-quality hearing amplifier for OTC markets, and the company’s iHearTest kit, the first FDA-cleared home hearing screener, both of which will be in 500 drug stores by June. The launches will expand to more than 1,300 stores by the end of the year, company officials said.

“We will see significant interest from consumers [in this category],” said John Luna, the company’s CEO. “[As many as] 85% of people who have mild-to-moderate hearing loss don’t own hearing devices. The key factors are access, price and cosmetics. If we can address all of those, [the subsequent] rising tide will raise all boats.”

This uproar around hearing aids could not have come at a better time, said Dan Fox, marketing director at Wally’s Natural, based in Auburn, Calif. “The OTC ear section has become stagnant. [The category] is not looked at as a destination, but that is going to change in the near future,” he said. “The new mandate is going to drive a whole new customer to the OTC section.”

Wally’s Natural is launching Organic Ear Oil, an innovative moisturizing product that soothes the ear. It’s not only really good for people who wear hearing aids, officials said, but it’s also applicable for anyone who wears ear plugs or hearable tech for long periods of time.

Another possible hearing aid adjacency that is expected to make some noise is ear wax removal. “There is an opportunity to educate seniors that hearing loss can be caused by excess earwax,” said Joseph Juliano, vice president of innovative and marketing services at Tarrytown, N.Y-based Prestige Brands. “About 21% of sufferers of excess earwax, almost 13 million people, are not currently treating, driven by lack of awareness of OTC options.” The company recently reformulated its Debrox solutions with more microfoam action that the company said lifts and loosens ear wax from the surface of the ear canal.

The aging baby boomer population is bringing new users into this segment. “The ‘ear discomfort’ segment is seeing some nice growth due to the introduction of the Eustachi device for unclogging ears,” said Yann Pigeaire, director of marketing at Similasan. “And ear ringing is also a trending issue regrettably — Google trends clearly shows a consistent increase in searches for this condition.” To meet the need of consumers with tinnitus, Similasan is introducing an Ear Ringing Remedy drop for the spring planograms.

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