Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic bracelets that promised to deliver instant and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic diseases?

Well, you won’t see much of that advertising anymore; in 2008, the creators of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally obligated to return customers a maximum of $87 million due to deceitful and fraudulent advertising.1

The problem had to do with rendering health claims that were not backed by any scientific studies. For that matter, strong research was there to reveal that the magnetized wristbands had NO effect on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the manufacturer but did wonders to win the court case for the Federal Trade Commission.2

The wishful thinking fallacy

Ok, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t function (besides the placebo effect), yet they sold extraordinarily well. What gives?

Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the straight forward reply is that we have a powerful tendency to believe in the things that may appear to make our lives better and quite a bit easier.

On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that donning a $50 wristband will wipe out your pain and that you don’t have to bother with pricey medical and surgical procedures.

If, for example, you happen to suffer the pain of chronic arthritis in your knee, which approach seems more attractive?

        a. Scheduling surgery for a complete knee replacement

        b. Going to the mall to pick up a magnetized bracelet

Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a chance. You already wish to believe that the bracelet will do the job, so now all you need is a little push from the marketers and some social confirmation from observing other people donning them.

But it is exactly this natural tendency, combined with the tendency to seek out confirming evidence, that will get you into the most trouble.

If it sounds too good to be true…

Keeping in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re suffering from hearing loss; which choice sounds more appealing?

       a. Scheduling a consultation with a hearing specialist and acquiring professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Ordering an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the web for 20 bucks

Just as the magnetic wristband seems much more attractive than a visit to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems much more attractive than a trip to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

However, as with the magnetized bracelets, personal sound amplifiers won’t cure anything, either.

The difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers

Before you get the wrong idea, I’m not implying that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t work.

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do deliver results. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers contain a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that pfor that matterick up sound and make it louder. Viewed on that level, personal sound amplifiers work fine — and for that matter, the same is true for the act of cupping your hands behind your ears.

However when you ask if PSAPs work, you’re asking the wrong question. The questions you should be asking are:

  1. How well do they work?
  2. For which type of person do they function best?

These are exactly the questions that the FDA answered when it issued its advice on the distinction between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

As reported by the FDA, hearing aids are defined as “any wearable instrument or device designed for, offered for the purpose of, or represented as aiding persons with or compensating for, impaired hearing.” (21 CFR 801.420)3

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment.”

Although the distinction is transparent, it’s easy for PSAP manufacturers and retailers to get around the distinction by simply not discussing it. For instance, on a PSAP package, you may find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This claim is imprecise enough to avoid the matter completely without having to explain exactly what the phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As stated by the FDA, PSAPs are simple amplification devices created for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you desire to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or tuning in to far off conversations, then a $20 PSAP is well suited for you.

If you have hearing loss, on the other hand, then you’ll require professionally programmed hearing aids. While more expensive, hearing aids offer the power and features required to address hearing loss. Here are a few of the reasons why hearing aids are superior to PSAPs:

  • Hearing aids amplify only the frequencies that you have trouble hearing, while PSAPs amplify all sound indiscriminately. By amplifying all frequencies, PSAPs won’t allow you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
  • Hearing aids have built in noise reduction and canceling functions, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for maximum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain several features and functions that block out background noise, enable phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not normally contain any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in diverse styles and are custom-molded for maximal comfort and cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are as a rule one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you believe that you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the low-priced PSAPs; rather, schedule a consultation with a hearing specialist. They will be able to accurately quantify your hearing loss and will ensure that you get the most effective hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So although the low-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this circumstance you should go with your better judgment and seek expert help. Your hearing is worth the hassle.

Sources

  1. Federal Trade Commission: Appeals Court Affirms Ruling in FTCs Favor in Q-Ray Bracelet Case
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of “ionized” wrist bracelets on musculoskeletal pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
  3. Food and Drug Administration: Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: Regulatory Requirements for Hearing Aid Devices and Personal Sound Amplification Products
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