There’s a lot of confusion about the difference between these two categories of devices, and that confusion is multiplied by the number of ads that you see for low cost personal sound amplifiers (PSAs), compared with how relatively few you see for hearing aids. The reason you don’t see lots of advertising campaigns for hearing aids is that they are medical devices, monitored by the Food & Drug Administration, and not available for sale without a prescription from a licensed doctor, hearing specialist or audiologist. Hearing aids are intended for people with hearing problems ranging from modest to extensive. Hearing aids are adjusted for each individual to specifically target their unique hearing impairment as established by the dispenser or audiologist.

PSAs also raise the volume of the sounds you hear, but they’re intended to do this for people with normal hearing. PSAs are sometimes created to look like hearing aids, but they aren’t. Their only function is to make things louder. Personal sound amplifiers are not capable of correcting the unique types of problems that hearing-impaired individuals have.

At under $100, PSAs are appealing to individuals on a small budget, considering the fact that the best hearing aids cost over a thousand dollars. This is the key reason why the Food & Drug Administration has distributed warnings about PSAs and has created websites and information campaigns to inform the general public about the dissimilarities between these sorts of devices. Their recommendation is straightforward: if you’re having trouble hearing sounds at volumes that other people consider normal, have your hearing tested by a qualified hearing specialist before you consider buying a personal sound amplifier. If you have true hearing problems, using a PSA can delay treatment that could improve your hearing, and in certain situations could even damage your hearing further (for example, by helping you to turn the volume up too high).

So, prior to making any final decision about buying a device to help your hearing, see your audiologist. Some hearing problems (such as an obstruction of the ear canal due to a ear wax buildup) can be reversed in a single doctor’s visit. Hearing loss attributable to irreversible inner ear damage can be improved with properly prescribed and programmed hearing aids. Trying to dismiss the problem by purchasing a device that only raises sound levels can cause you to postpone appropriate treatment that might potentially lessen the need for either hearing aids or personal sound amplifiers.

After a hearing exam, if your hearing is determined to be normal, you may choose a PSA if you still have a tough time with certain sounds. If you decide to purchase a PSA, you should read the specifications carefully and look for one that says it amplifies in the frequency range of human speech. That range is 1000 to 2000 Hz. Choose a unit with volume level controls that do not permit it to go beyond 135 decibels. That’s already really over the top! There’s a place for PSAs in the marketplace when utilized by the right individuals. PSAs can be beneficial for people with normal hearing to hear distant or weak sounds much better. A PSA just shouldn’t be confused with more precise and more sophisticated hearing aids, or be viewed as a substitute for them by individuals who have suffered genuine hearing loss.

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