For millions of Americans struggling with hearing loss, varying treatments are available to improve their ability to hear. Hearing aids, hearing friendly apps, and assistive listening devices all exist to help increase the quality of life for the hard of hearing, but with all of these options, it may be easy to become confused when it comes to the wide range of terminology. Two forms of technology, hearing aids and hearing amplifiers, may sound similar but are actually used by different populations for different reasons and can be mistaken as a replacement for the other. Understanding the differences between technology like this and knowing what is helpful could make all the difference when treating your hearing loss.
Personal Sound Amplifying Products (PSAP) are personal sound amplifiers that help you hear low-volume sounds or sounds that are further away. These devices are usually a subtle “one size fits all” and are worn in or on your ear to amplify sounds in certain situations, such as watching television at home or hunters listening for animals in nature. PSAP’s design allows for those with healthy hearing to have a kind of “superpower” hearing, allowing the user to hear noises from a distance that are picked up by the amplifier microphone and intensified. They work by amplifying all sounds regardless of frequency or volume and are used for strictly recreational use by those without impaired hearing. Their accessibility, discreet look, and low price tag make them attractive devices in place of ordinary hearing loss devices, but cannot be used to replace your hearing aids as they can actually make your hearing loss worse.
Hearing amplifiers are a popular way to improve your ability to hear sounds, which sounds similar to hearing aids, right? Though hearing amplifiers and hearing aids have a similar goal, they are not one and the same. Hearing amplifiers are used by those with healthy hearing and are not recommended to treat hearing loss. In fact, the FDA released consumer guidelines highlighting the difference between the two in 2009, concluding they are not approved as medical devices. This is because personal hearing amplifiers do not work the same way hearing aids do. Hearing aids are carefully chosen by a healthcare professional and tailored for your unique degree of hearing loss. The technology inside your device is far more advanced, performing actions such as amplifying certain frequencies, differentiating between certain sounds, drowning out background noise, or whatever your particular diagnosis requires.
Oppositely, hearing amplifiers are usually in a “one size fits all” design and will boost the volume of all sounds regardless of frequency. This can actually be harmful to those with hearing loss, says Dr. Eric Mann, the Deputy Director of the FDA’s Division of Ophthalmic, Neurological, And Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices. “It can cause a delay in diagnosis of a potentially treatable condition. And that delay can allow the condition to get worse and lead to other complications.” These devices are not intended to help those with impaired hearing and can make your hearing loss worse in the long run.
If you are experiencing hearing loss symptoms, speak to a hearing health professional to get a hearing evaluation. For the longevity of your hearing, it is vital that you do not use hearing amplifiers as a substitute for medically approved hearing aids that are tailored for your degree of hearing loss.