What exactly is the difference between a personal sound amplifier (PSA) and a hearing aid?
One distinction is that the PSA is being aggressively marketed in recent months giving rise to quite a great deal of confusion. You generally don’t see similar advertisements for hearing aids in part because they are medical devices according to the FDA and can’t be sold without having been prescribed by an audiologist or hearing specialist. Hearing aids are for individuals with hearing problems ranging from modest to profound. They are adjusted for each individual person to precisely address their unique hearing loss as established by the hearing aid dispenser or audiologist.
In contrast, PSAs were created for people with normal hearing. A personal sound amplifier increases the volume level of sounds by amplifying them. Some PSAs look similar to hearing aids, simply because they are small and can be worn on the body, but the only thing that they do is increase sound. PSAs cannot accommodate individual needs, selectively boost selected frequencies or filter out background noise as hearing aids do.
At $100 or less, personal sound amplifiers are appealing to people on a tight budget. After all, the top hearing aids cost over a thousand. The massive variation in cost is one of the reasons the FDA is now involved in developing websites and information campaigns to ensure that buyers understand the difference. The bottom line is, personal sound amplifiers are for individuals with normal hearing only. If you’re having problems hearing in situations where others are not having problems, you should see an audiologist or hearing specialist for a hearing test. Using a personal sound amplifier rather than getting your hearing examined can delay vital treatment that could bring back your hearing, and in some situations (setting the volume too high) can even cause further damage to your hearing.
So, prior to making any decision about buying a device to help your hearing, see your audiologist or hearing instrument specialist. Some hearing problems, such as blockage of the ear canal caused by accumulated ear wax, can be cleared up and your hearing recovered in a single office visit. Other types of hearing loss may be more serious or even permanent, but they too can be successfully cared for using quality hearing aids that have been correctly prescribed and correctly adjusted. Attempting to ignore the underlying problem by buying a product that only raises volume levels can delay treatment that could possibly lessen the need for either hearing aids or PSAs.
If, on the other hand, your audiologist or hearing specialist finds no evidence of serious hearing loss, and you are still having trouble hearing weaker sounds, then you can think about purchasing a PSA. When shopping, be certain to only look at personal sound amplifiers whose specs say that they reliably amplify sounds between 1000-2000 Hz, which is the range of normal human conversation. Only consider models with a volume control and built-in limits that do not allow the sound levels to exceed 135 decibels. A good quality personal sound amplifier has its purposes, and can increase the ability of individuals with normal hearing to hear weak or distant sounds. The risk in PSAs is confusing them with hearing aids – which they are not. If you think you may have hearing loss, schedule an appointment to have your hearing tested.