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Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic wristbands that promised to furnish immediate and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic conditions?

Well, you won’t find much of that promoting anymore; in 2008, the makers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally mandated to return customers a maximum of $87 million as a result of misleading and fraudulent advertising.1

The issue had to do with rendering health claims that were not supported by any scientific facts. In fact, strong evidence existed to suggest that the magnetized wristbands had NO influence on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the producer but did wonders to win the court case for the Federal Trade Commission.2

The wishful thinking fallacy

Fine, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (above the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling extremely well. What gives?

Without diving into the depths of human psychology, the simple answer is that we have a powerful proclivity to believe in the things that appear to make our lives better and easier.

On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that putting on a $50 bracelet will take away your pain and that you don’t have to trouble yourself with pricey medical and surgical treatments.

If, for example, you happen to suffer from chronic arthritis in your knee, which decision seems more appealing?

        a. Booking surgery for a total knee replacement

        b. Taking a trip to the mall to pick up a magnetic 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 advertisers and some social confirmation from spotting other people donning them.

But it is precisely this natural desire, together with the inclination 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 approach sounds more appealing?

       a. Scheduling an appointment with a hearing practitioner and getting professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Purchasing an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the internet for 20 bucks

Much like the magnetic bracelet seems much more appealing than a trip to the doctor or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems to be much more desirable than a trip to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

But unfortunately, as with the magnetic 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 proposing 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 work. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers come with a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that pfor that matterick up sound and make it louder. Regarded 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 deliver the results?
  2. For which type of person do they function best?

These are precisely the questions that the FDA addressed when it created its recommendations on the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

As outlined by the FDA, hearing aids are classified 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.”

Despite the fact that the difference is transparent, it’s easy for PSAP producers and sellers to avoid the distinction by simply not discussing it. For example, on a PSAP package, you may find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This statement is unclear enough to skirt the matter completely without having to explain exactly what the catch 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 intended for individuals with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you wish to hear better while hunting, bird watching, or tuning in to distant conversations, then a $20 PSAP is perfect for you.

If you have hearing loss, on the other hand, then you’ll need professionally programmed hearing aids. While more expensive, hearing aids provide the power and features required to correct hearing loss. The following are some 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 make it easy for you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
  • Hearing aids come with integrated noise reduction and canceling features, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for maximum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain multiple features and functions that minimize background noise, permit phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not usually contain any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in diverse styles and are custom-molded for maximal comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are in most cases one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you think that you have hearing loss, don’t be tempted by the low-cost PSAPs; rather, make an appointment with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely measure your hearing loss and will make sure that you receive the most suitable hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So while the low-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this situation you should listen to your better judgment and seek professional help. Your hearing is well worth the work.


  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