PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Millions of Americans, whether they will admit it or not, suffer from hearing loss.

Due to the profound way hearing loss affects the young and old, the FDA last month cleared the way for those people ages 18 and older, without a doctor’s exam or audio gram, to buy hearing aids over the counter.

Chicago-based ENT surgeon Dr. Sreek Cherukuri used to sell hearing aids and is now offering advice across the country for those with hearing loss. Over-the-counter purchases are recommended only for those with mild to moderate hearing loss.

“We hope this new law makes the access and the cost much more amenable. We think about the statistics. There are over 35 to 40 million people with hearing loss and only 20 percent of them have hearing aids,” said Dr. Cherukuri.

Here in Hampton Roads, jet noise, aka the sound of freedom, is just one risk factor that has left many former and active-duty military members with hearing loss.

Ear, nose, and throat specialists say those with hearing loss should take action immediately, as the hearing loss has been linked to dementia.

“They are not getting the stimulus and very much like a muscle: use it or lose it,” Dr. Cherukuri explained. “The brain atrophies and we have seen strong links between Alzheimer’s dementia and untreated hearing loss.”

On the other end of the spectrum, a doctor or audiology visit is still required for minors. Specialists say parents should investigate potential hearing loss when children are having trouble in school.

“A patient I saw last week was actually normal but they were falling behind in school. 11 years old and we did find that one ear was not hearing well; the other ear was fine and it depended on where the child sat[in class)]; if the bad ear was toward the teacher he was missing a lot,” said Dr.Cherukuri.

Most over-the-counter hearing aids run in the hundreds of dollars and not the thousands. However, sophisticated new technology hearing aids are more expensive and require a doctor’s prescription.

“Imagine a hearing aid very much like your earbud that can steam your phone call, steam your music and it just becomes a seamless part of your day,” said Dr.Cherukuri.