Do you have hearing loss? Ergo, you need a hearing aid. And Eargo, a little pun on that word, may be the hearing aid for you.
About 25% of us over the age of 55 have some hearing loss, usually on the high end, medically known as presbycusis, and the older we get the more prevalent it is, with about half of people age 75 or older having hearing loss. So as the generation of Baby Boomers ages, the market for hearing devices has, well, boomed.
There are two types of such devices: hearing aids so classified by the Food & Drug Administration, and often expensive because they need professional fitting and configuring; and PSAPs, Personal Sound Amplification Products, that you can buy yourself online or in a store, and have no FDA review. The Eargo is an FDA “cleared“ Class 1 Medical Device – meaning it causes no harm to the user – and is a hearing aid, not a PSAP.
As of this writing, only one over-the-counter (or Internet) hearing aid is FDA “approved” as a Class 1 Medical Device; “approved” is a more rigorous standard. But FDA approval of OTC devices is the direction the hearing aid market is going because professionally sold & fitted hearing aids are expensive and generally not covered by insurance, especially when the insurance is Medicare.
All that said, the Eargo is a pretty decent hearing aid for those with mild to moderate hearing loss who need a little help discerning voices in a noisy room, not turning up the TV volume to spouse-complaining levels or simply for everyday conversation.
The Eargo goes in the ear, duh, as opposed to hearing aids that hang over your earlobe with only the “speaker” part inside your ear. That makes it almost invisible except for a thin mostly transparent plastic “removal thread” that rests outside your ear canal so the Eargo can be taken out, as it needs to be for daily recharging, cleaning, and especially when you bathe, shower or swim, as the device is not waterproof.
One thing that makes the Eargo different than other hearing devices are the “Flex Fibers” as they call them, medical grade silicone “plugs” to hold the Eargo in your ear, which have little strands on them, unlike the simple foam plugs you might have on your earbuds. Eargo says this allows more low-frequency sounds to enter your ears by not completely blocking ambient noise.
Each Eargo comes with two different sized Flex Fibers – several of each – plus tools for cleaning them of ear wax. Also included is a charging module you place the Eargos in when you go to sleep, with lights indicating the degree of charge of each device, plus the battery life left on the charging module before you have to recharge it with the included USB charger. The Eargo only comes in black.
The volume on the Eargo is changed – while it’s in your ear – by open-palm tapping on the outside of your ear. They are, sadly, not Bluetooth devices that can be adjusted with an app on your phone. Perhaps in the future, because it does seem a little silly to be slapping the side of your head to raise or lower the volume to one of 4 different levels.
Using any hearing aid takes getting used to, even for someone like me who had a career in radio and is accustomed to hearing my own voice & other sounds amplified in headphones. It’s because only the high end is being amplified, so it can sound a little tinny – true of any hearing device.
The Eargo currently comes in two flavors – and prices. The Eargo Plus is $1950 direct, or can be financed as low as $90 per month. The newer Eargo Max is $2450, or as low as $114 monthly. Among the differences is that the Max is said to have fewer feedback problems, better amplification and some other advancements. I only tried the Eargo Max, so I can’t say if it’s worth the extra $500 compared to the earlier model.
But Eargo does ship their devices for free and you have 45 days to try them and return if they are not for you. Currently, they will send the Max for a free 45-day trial if you qualify for 24 or 48-month financing.