We live in an era of instant, online gratification. Need a new dress? It can be here in 24 hours. Need a new TV? Hop online, compare prices and purchase in under an hour. Have a sore throat? There’s now an app where you can engage with a licensed physician, show them your throat, and get a treatment plan.
This level of convenience is necessary because we live such busy lives. In the hearing health world, the online option is known as a PSAP (personal sound amplification product). It’s important to distinguish a PSAP from an OTC (over-the-counter) hearing aid before we explore the pros and cons of a PSAP.
OTC hearing aids have been in the news recently, but it must be noted that they don’t exist yet.
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration Act of 2017 was signed into law. This legislation includes the Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act, a measure intended to improve hearing aid affordability and access. We’re all familiar with OTC versions of medications and OTC hearing aids will work in a comparable manner. The roll-out of an OTC hearing aid is still years away since the law requires the FDA to create and regulate a category for OTC hearing aids so consumers will receive the same exacting standards for safety, labeling, and manufacturing required of traditional, prescribed hearing aids.
PSAPs are pure amplification devices initially intended for recreational use like going to a concert or to a movie. PSAPs are not regulated by the FDA. They have been gaining popularity because they’re seen as a lower-cost alternative to a standard hearing aid. It is true that the cost is lower, but so is the functionality. Think of it this way: you can buy a pair of reading glasses that will magnify print to provide an improved result, but in no way is this the best result you can get for your eyes. Similarly, a PSAP will amplify the sound for you, but it is not the best you can do for your hearing health.
Your hearing issues are your hearing issues. The level of hearing loss, the frequencies affected, the hearing health of the left ear versus the right ear, and lifestyle goals for are all unique to you. An internet-ordered PSAP will not be personalized for you. A hearing aid will.
In addition to sound amplification, a proper hearing aid provides the following:
- Customization to the user’s ear
- Programming based on results of hearing tests
- Multi-directional microphones
- Background noise suppression
- Telecoil technology to link to sound systems
- Bluetooth or smartphone linking capabilities
- Follow-up assessments and adjustments with a hearing healthcare professional
Human hearing is not solely about volume. It involves a complex interplay of stimuli and processes involving both ears and the brain. Recent research out of Johns Hopkins University has established a link between hearing loss and dementia. Researchers suspect that the extra effort required by the brain to compensate for hearing loss may be impacting other areas of brain function, like memory.
Ultimately, you are the best arbiter of what role convenience should play in your medical decision making. Choosing the right hearing device impacts your overall health and we’re here to answer any questions you may have to assist you in making the best choice for you.