What is the exact difference between a hearing aid and a personal sound amplifier (PSA)? One big difference is that the PSA is being heavily advertised in recent months generating a lot of confusion. One reason you don’t see as many ads for hearing aids is because they are medical devices, supervised by the Food & Drug Administration, and therefore not available for sale without a prescription from a properly licensed doctor, audiologist or hearing instrument specialist. Hearing aids are meant to help people with real clinical hearing problems; they amplify sounds, but they also have extra controls and processors that make them programmable to satisfy each user’s hearing needs.
PSAs, on the other hand, were created to increase the volume of surrounding sounds for individuals who have normal hearing. PSAs are sometimes made to look like hearing aids, but they aren’t. The only purpose for a PSA is to make sounds louder. PSAs cannot adjust to individual needs, selectively boost certain frequencies or filter background noise the way that hearing aids do.
At under $100, personal sound amplifiers are appealing to individuals on a budget. After all, the top hearing aids cost over a $1000 . This is exactly why the Food & Drug Administration has published warnings about personal sound amplifiers and has developed websites and information campaigns to advise the general public about the dissimilarities between these sorts of devices. Their recommendation is straightforward: if you’re having difficulty hearing sounds at what other people consider normal volumes, have your hearing tested by a qualified audiologist or hearing specialist before you think about buying a PSA. Using a PSA when you in fact require a hearing aid has many downsides. First it may cause you to postpone professional evaluation and treatment of your hearing impairment. Second, it might damage your hearing further if the PSA is used at extremely high volumes.
So, prior to making any decision about buying a device to help your hearing, see your hearing specialist. Certain hearing problems, such as obstruction of the ear canal caused by ear wax, can be fixed and your hearing recovered in just one doctor’s visit. Other hearing impairments are more significant, but can also be corrected with correctly prescribed and programmed quality hearing aids. Trying to dismiss the underlying problem by choosing a product that only boosts volume levels can cause you to postpone appropriate treatment that might possibly lessen the need for either hearing aids or personal sound amplifiers.
That said, if your audiologist finds no signs of significant hearing loss, but you’re still having some difficulty hearing, you may think about an inexpensive personal sound amplifier to make things louder. When shopping, be sure to only consider personal sound amplifiers whose technical specifications state that they reliably amplify sounds between 1000 to 2000 Hertz, which is the frequency range of typical human conversation. Only consider units with a volume control and built-in limits that do not allow the volume levels to surpass 135 decibels. A high quality PSA can make weak sounds easier to hear for those with normal hearing, and thus have their purpose. They just should not be mistaken for genuine hearing aids, or be utilized as a substitute for them by people with real hearing loss.