There’s a lot of misinformation about the difference between these two types of products, and that confusion is increased by the number of advertisements floating around for inexpensive personal sound amplifiers (PSAs), compared with how relatively few you see for hearing aids. You generally don’t see similar advertising campaigns for hearing aids in part because they are medical devices according to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and can’t be sold without having been prescribed by a a hearing specialist or audiologist. Hearing aids are intended for people with hearing problems ranging from slight to profound. They are programmed for each individual person to specifically address their unique hearing impairment as established by the dispenser or audiologist.
In contrast, personal sound amplifiers were created for individuals with normal hearing. A personal sound amplifier boosts the volume of surrounding sounds by amplifying them. Some PSAs look a little like hearing aids, in that they are smallish and can be worn on the body, but all they do is amplify sound. PSAs are not able to correct the unique sorts of difficulties that hearing-impaired people have.
If you are on a tight budget, PSAs may seem like a more reasonably-priced substitute for hearing aids ($100 or less, as opposed to thousands for high quality hearing aids). The massive variation in price is one good reason the Food & Drug Administration has gotten involved developing websites and information campaigns to ensure that buyers understand the difference. The FDA recommendation is straightforward: if you’re having a tough time hearing sounds at what other people consider normal volumes, have your hearing checked by a professional hearing specialist before you consider buying a personal sound amplifier. If you have real hearing losses, using a personal sound amplifier can postpone treatment that might improve your hearing, and in certain cases could even impair your hearing further (for example, by making it possible for you to turn the volume level up too high).
So, prior to making any decision about buying a device to help you hear better, see your hearing specialist or audiologist. Some hearing problems, such as obstruction of the ear canals caused by accumulated ear wax, can be treated and your hearing recovered in just one doctor’s visit. Other types of hearing impairment may be more significant or even irreversible, but they too can be successfully cared for using hearing aids that have been correctly prescribed and correctly programmed. An audiologist or hearing specialist can pinpoint the underlying cause of your problem. In certain scenarios you won’t require a hearing aid or a personal sound amplifier.
That said, if your audiologist or hearing specialist doesn’t find any signs of significant hearing loss, but you’re still having some difficulty hearing, you can consider a low-cost personal sound amplifier to help out. If you do this, be certain to only consider PSAs whose technical specifications say that they effectively amplify sounds between 1000 to 2000 Hz, which is the range of typical human conversation. Get a model with volume controls that do not permit it to exceed 135 decibels. That is already really over the top! A good quality PSA has its uses, and can improve the ability of those with normal hearing to hear weak or distant sounds. They just should not be wrongly identified as genuine hearing aids, or be utilized as a substitute for them by individuals with real hearing loss.