There is a lot of confusion with regards to the difference between these two categories of devices, and that confusion is increased by how many advertisements floating around for inexpensive personal sound amplifiers (PSAs), compared with how few you see for hearing aids. The reason you don’t see very many advertisements for hearing aids is because they are medical devices, monitored by the Food & Drug Administration, and not available for purchase without an individual prescription from a licensed doctor, hearing instrument specialist or audiologist. Hearing aids are for those who have hearing problems ranging from slight to extensive. They are adjusted for each individual person to specifically address their distinctive hearing impairment as established by the dispenser or audiologist.
Personal sound amplifiers also increase the volume of the sounds you hear, but they’re designed to do this for individuals with normal hearing. Some personal sound amplifiers look similar to hearing aids, in that they are small and can be worn on the body, but the only thing that they do is amplify sound. They are not designed to assist with the problems that a hearing-impaired person may have.
The price of personal sound amplifiers (often under $100, versus thousands of dollars for the best hearing aids) may make them seem appealing to people on a limited budget. That is exactly why the FDA has published warnings about personal sound amplifiers and has created information campaigns and websites to inform the public about the differences between these sorts of products. The FDA recommendation is simple: if you’re having trouble hearing sounds at volumes that other individuals deem normal, have your hearing checked by a qualified audiologist or hearing specialist before you consider purchasing a PSA. Using a personal sound amplifier rather than getting your hearing evaluated can delay essential treatment that could bring back your hearing, and in certain situations (turning the volume up excessively) can even cause further damage to your hearing.
Before buying any device to improve your hearing, see an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist. This is the FDA advice to ensure that you get the best care. Specific cases of hearing loss, for example those due to excessive ear wax, can be dealt with in a single office visit. Hearing loss attributable to irreversible inner ear damage can be considerably improved with carefully prescribed and programmed hearing aids. Trying to dismiss the problem by choosing a product that only raises volume levels can delay appropriate treatment that might potentially alleviate the need for either hearing aids or PSAs.
After a hearing exam, if your hearing ability is found to be normal, you may select a PSA if you still have trouble with particular sounds. When shopping for one, study the device’s technical specs, and only purchase those that satisfactorily amplify sounds in the frequency range of human conversation (between 1000-2000 Hertz). Additionally, do not consider any PSAs that do not have volume controls and electronically-enforced loudness limits that do not permit their sound levels to surpass 135 decibels. There is a role for PSAs in the market when used by the right people. They can be beneficial for individuals with normal hearing to hear faraway or faint sounds better. They simply shouldn’t be confused with genuine hearing aids, or be utilized as an alternative to them by individuals with real hearing loss.