Please Don’t Purchase a PSA If You Have Hearing Difficulties

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Have you noticed ads for low cost “personal sound amplifiers” (PSAs) on television or in newspapers in recent months? These ads are helping to create confusion about the distinction between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers. The reason you don’t see very many ads for hearing aids is because they are medical devices, supervised by the Food & Drug Administration, and not available for sale without a prescription from a properly licensed doctor, hearing specialist or audiologist. Hearing aids are intended to help individuals with diminished hearing; they have controls and sophisticated microprocessors that can be programmed to match specific hearing difficulties.

PSAs also increase the volume of the sounds you hear, but they’re intended to do this for people with normal hearing. Some PSAs appear similar to hearing aids, but they are not; the only thing that they do is take in sound and increase its volume. They are not meant to help with the problems that a hearing-impaired person may have.

For those who are on a tight budget, personal sound amplifiers might seem like a more reasonably-priced alternative to hearing aids ($100, versus thousands for hearing aids). Because of this , the Food & Drug Administration cautions that the two products shouldn’t be confused. If you are having difficulty hearing, do not buy a personal sound amplifier without having your hearing checked by a qualified hearing specialist or audiologist. If you have true hearing losses, using a PSA can delay treatment that could improve your hearing, and in some situations may even damage your hearing even more (for example, by helping you to turn the volume level up too high).

The Food & Drug Administration therefore suggests that you see your hearing instrument specialist or audiologist before you make any final decision about buying any type of product to improve your hearing. Some hearing problems, for instance blockage of the ear canals caused by accumulated ear wax, can be treated and your hearing recovered in one doctor’s visit. Other varieties of hearing loss may be more serious or even permanent, but they too can be successfully treated using hearing aids that have been correctly prescribed and programmed. Trying to ignore the underlying problem by buying a product that only boosts sound levels can cause you to postpone appropriate treatment that might potentially alleviate the need for either hearing aids or personal sound amplifiers.

Having said that, if your hearing instrument specialist or audiologist doesn’t find any signs of significant hearing loss, but you’re still having trouble hearing, you may think about an inexpensive PSA to make things louder. If you choose to get a PSA, you’ll want to check the specifications carefully and look for one which claims it amplifies in the frequency range of human conversation. That range is 1000 to 2000 Hz. Only consider units with a volume control and built-in limits that do not allow the volume levels to surpass 135 decibels. A quality personal sound amplifier has its purposes, and can improve the ability of individuals with normal hearing to hear faint or distant sounds. They simply shouldn’t be confused with authentic hearing aids, or be utilized as a substitute for them by individuals with true hearing loss.

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