What exactly is the difference between a hearing aid and a personal sound amplifier (PSA)? One difference is that the PSA is being aggressively marketed to the consumer giving rise to quite a lot of confusion. One reason you don’t see lots of ads for hearing aids is that they are medical devices, supervised by the Food & Drug Administration, and not available for sale without a prescription from a properly licensed doctor, audiologist or hearing instrument specialist. Hearing aids are intended to help individuals with diminished hearing; they have settings and sophisticated microprocessors that can be programmed to match individual hearing problems.
Conversely, personal sound amplifiers were created for people with normal hearing. A PSA increases the volume level of surrounding sounds by amplifying them. Some PSAs look similar to hearing aids, simply because they are small and can be worn on the body, but all they do is amplify sound. Personal sound amplifiers are not capable of correcting the subtle sorts of problems that hearing-impaired individuals have.
At $100 or less, personal sound amplifiers are appealing to people on a small budget, considering the fact that the best hearing aids cost over a thousand . That is precisely why the FDA has issued warnings about personal sound amplifiers and has created information campaigns and websites to advise the general public about the dissimilarities between these types of products. If you are having trouble hearing, do not buy a PSA without having your hearing tested by a qualified audiologist or hearing instrument specialist. Using a personal sound amplifier when you in fact need a hearing aid has many disadvantages. First it might hold up professional evaluation and treatment of your hearing impairment. Second, it might damage your hearing even more if the PSA is used at excessive volumes.
The FDA thus suggests that you see your hearing specialist before you make any decision about purchasing any kind of product to improve your hearing. Some hearing problems, such as simple obstruction of the ear canals caused by impacted ear wax, can be treated and your hearing recovered in one office visit. Other types of hearing loss may be more serious or even irreversible, but they too can be effectively cared for using quality hearing aids that have been correctly prescribed and adjusted. Ignoring the underlying problem by using a device that does nothing but increase sound levels can cause you to postpone appropriate treatment that could restore your hearing, and thus eliminate the need for either PSAs or hearing aids.
Having said that, if your audiologist or hearing specialist finds no signs of serious hearing loss, but you’re still having trouble hearing, you may consider an inexpensive PSA to help you hear. When shopping, be sure to only look at PSAs whose technical specifications say that they effectively amplify sounds between 1000 to 2000 Hertz, which is the frequency range of typical human conversation. Look for a model with volume controls that do not permit it to go beyond 135 decibels. That’s already really loud! A high quality personal sound amplifier has its uses, and can increase the ability of those with normal hearing to hear faint or distant sounds. A PSA should just not be mistaken for more sophisticated and more precise hearing aids, or be perceived as a substitute for them by individuals who have experienced real hearing loss.