With nearly 20% of Americans suffering from hearing loss it’s no surprise that
many people with hearing impairment are searching for hearing loss solutions
online information about hearing loss, hearing aids and other sound
Consumers are tempted to purchase less expensive over-the-counter devices,
called personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), rather than see a
hearing care professional for hearing aids. Although hearing aids are customfitted
devices that provide the best solution for most individuals with hearing
loss, they carry the stigma of “making you look old” and having a price tag
that’s “too expensive”. It also takes time to get hearing aids fit appropriately
by a hearing care professional, including follow-up visits for adjustments and
maintenance as time goes by.
A personal sound amplification product, or PSAP, is a one-size-fits-all
electronic device that amplifies soft sounds. The FDA advises that these
devices are not intended to be used by individuals with a decreased capacity to
hear. They are intended for use by people with normal hearing ability who
want to heighten their ability to hear for certain recreational activities, such as
hunting or bird watching.
How is a PSAP different from a hearing aid? Unlike PSAPs, hearing aids are
FDA-approved medical devices that are prescribed and fitted by licensed
hearing healthcare professionals. The technical capability and programming of
a hearing aid goes far beyond simple amplification of sound. Current hearing
aid circuitry includes features for reducing background noise, using multiple
microphone arrays to provide directional enhancement and improve
localization, wireless connectivity for accessing other personal devices and
multiple programs to improve hearing ability according to the environment.
Many of these features can be automated.
So while a PSAP takes all sounds and increases the volume of them, a hearing
aid uses sophisticated algorithms to precisely divide sounds according to
volume and pitch. It then makes volume increases according to the individual’s
hearing ability across all pitches. What’s wrong with increasing all sounds?
Nothing, if you’re bird-watching. But for having conversation, this can create
problems. Most hearing losses are not the same across all frequencies. This
means for most people with hearing loss, a PSAP may increase the volume of
sounds that the person does not actually need amplified. This can lead to lots
of difficulty understanding speech.
Why do hearing aids cost more than PSAPs? Hearing aids are sophisticated
FDA-approved medical devices designed specifically to treat hearing loss and
are manufactured to rigorous standards. Hearing aid manufacturers employ
highly-educated audiologists, engineers and scientists who conduct ongoing
research to continuously improve sound processing algorithms and hearing aid
design. Hearing aids are fitted and programmed by educated individuals who
are tested and licensed by their state. These hearing care professionals are
required to undergo continuous training and professional development.By
comparison, PSAPs are relatively simple electronic devices that are purchased
“over the counter” and aren’t designed for people with hearing loss.