There’s a lot of confusion with regards to the difference between these two types of products, and that confusion is multiplied by the number of ads that you see for low cost personal sound amplifiers (PSAs), compared with how relatively few you see for hearing aids. However, you won’t see as many hearing aid promotions on TV or in newspapers because they are medical devices. As medical devices hearing aids are regulated by the FDA and can only be sold by licensed audiologist or hearing specialist. Hearing aids are for individuals with hearing problems ranging from slight to profound. They are programmed for each individual person to specifically address their distinctive hearing loss as established by the dispenser or audiologist.
Personal sound amplifiers, on the other hand, were developed to boost the volume of sounds for individuals who have normal hearing. Some personal sound amplifiers look similar to hearing aids, but they aren’t; all that they do is take in sound and increase its volume. They are not intended to help with the challenges that a hearing-impaired individual may have.
At under $100, personal sound amplifiers are appealing to people on a small budget. After all, the top hearing aids cost over a $1000 . The massive variation in cost is one of the reasons the FDA is now involved developing websites and information campaigns to make sure that buyers learn the distinction. To put it simply, personal sound amplifiers are only for people with normal hearing. If you’re having trouble hearing in situations where others are not having problems, you should see an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist for a hearing evaluation. If you have real hearing losses, using a PSA can postpone treatment that could improve your hearing, and in some situations may even damage your hearing further (for instance, by helping you to turn the volume up too high).
The FDA therefore suggests that you see your hearing instrument specialist or audiologist before you make any decision about purchasing any type of product to assist your hearing ability. Certain hearing problems (say for example a blockage of the ear canal due to a ear wax accumulation) can be corrected in a single office visit. Other varieties of hearing impairment may be more significant or even permanent, but they can also be successfully cared for using quality hearing aids that have been correctly prescribed and adjusted. A hearing specialist will be able to pinpoint the root cause of your difficulty hearing. In some cases you won’t require a hearing aid or a PSA.
That said, if your audiologist finds no signs of serious hearing loss, but you’re still having trouble hearing, you can consider a low-cost personal sound amplifier to make things louder. When shopping, be sure to only look at personal sound amplifiers whose technical specs say that they effectively amplify sounds between 1000 to 2000 Hz, which is the range of typical human conversation. Also, do not purchase any PSAs that don’t include volume controls and electronically-enforced loudness limits that don’t allow their sound levels to exceed 135 decibels. There’s a place for personal sound amplifiers in the market when utilized by the right individuals. They can be helpful for individuals with normal hearing to hear faraway or weak sounds much better. They simply should not be mistaken for authentic hearing aids, or be used as a substitute for them by people with true hearing loss.