Can Cheap Personal Sound Amplifiers Substitute for Hearing Aids?

Have you noticed advertisements for low cost “personal sound amplifiers” (PSAs) on television or in magazines lately? These ads are contributing to confusion about the difference between PSAs and hearing aids. The reason you don’t see very many advertising campaigns for hearing aids is because they are medical devices, monitored by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and therefore not available for sale without a prescription from a properly licensed doctor, hearing instrument specialist or audiologist. Hearing aids are designed to help individuals with genuine clinical hearing difficulties; they amplify sounds, but hearing aids also have additional settings and filters that make them programmable to satisfy each individual’s hearing requirements.

PSAs, on the other hand, were designed to boost the volume of surrounding sounds for individuals who have normal hearing. Some PSAs appear very much like hearing aids, but they are not; the only thing that they do is increase the volume of surrounding sounds. Personal sound amplifiers are not able to correct the subtle sorts of difficulties that hearing-impaired individuals have.

If you are on a tight budget, personal sound amplifiers may seem like a more reasonably-priced substitute for hearing aids ($100 or less, compared to thousands of dollars for high quality hearing aids). The huge variation in cost is a primary reason the FDA is now involved developing information campaigns and websites to ensure that buyers learn the difference. Simply put, PSAs are only for people with normal hearing. If you are having problems hearing under circumstances where others are not having trouble, you need to see an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist for a hearing evaluation. Relying on a personal sound amplifier rather than getting your hearing examined can delay vital treatment that could restore your hearing, and in some cases (setting the volume too high) can even cause further damage to your hearing.

The Food & Drug Administration thus recommends that you see your hearing specialist or audiologist before you make any final decision about buying any kind of device to assist your hearing. Specific cases of hearing loss, such as those caused by accumulated ear wax, can be treated in a single appointment. Hearing loss caused by irreversible inner ear damage can be improved with meticulously prescribed and adjusted hearing aids. Trying to ignore the problem by buying a product that only boosts sound levels can cause you to postpone treatment that might possibly alleviate the need for either hearing aids or personal sound amplifiers.

After a hearing test, if your hearing ability is found to be normal, you may choose a personal sound amplifier if you still have trouble with certain sounds. When shopping for one, study the PSA’s specifications, and only consider those that satisfactorily amplify sounds in the range of human speech (between 1000-2000 Hertz). Also, don’t purchase any personal sound amplifiers that do not come with volume controls and electronically-enforced loudness limits that do not allow their levels to surpass 135 decibels. A high quality personal sound amplifier can make faint sounds easier to hear for people with normal hearing, and consequently have their purpose. The risk in PSAs is mixing them up with hearing aids – which they are not. If you think you may have hearing loss, make an appointment to have your hearing professionally tested.

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