U.S. tells hearing aid makers to stop 'misleading' ad claims

April 27, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that it has warned the nation's six largest manufacturers of hearing aids to stop "misleading the public" about the effectiveness of their products or face regulatory action.

In letters sent April 16, the agency told the companies that their advertising, promotion and labeling create "unrealistic expectations" about the devices.

About 5.8 million Americans wear hearing aids, and an estimated 10 million persons older than 65 suffer from some form of hearing loss, the agency said.

According to The American Association of Retired Persons, estimates of individuals with hearing loss range as high as 24 million, with about 60 percent of them older than 65. The elderly purchase 65 percent of all hearing aids, the AARP said.

Lee Norrgard, senior investigative analyst with AARP's office of consumer affairs, said that hearing devices are second only to canes as the most widely used health aids.

The FDA said that the six firms under scrutiny represent the bulk of the hearing aid market.

The agency took issue with claims made by the firms that their hearing aids significantly improve a user's ability to hear and comprehend the spoken word in noisy environments.

The claims imply that those who use the devices would be able to distinguish speech from extraneous sounds and that the hearing aids would not amplify background noises, the FDA said.

"People who have hearing deficits should seek help and nothing we're saying should deter people from seeking help. Advertising is fine if it gets people to seek help," said FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler. "But we just want the advertising to tell the whole story."

Karen Turner, a spokeswoman for Dahlberg, Inc., of Golden Valley, Minn., which makes the Miracle Ear Clarifier and Micro Elite, declined comment on the substance of the agency's complaints.

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