The Difference Between Personal Sound Amplifiers and Hearing Aids

Modern Hearing aids

Personal Sound Amplifiers (PSAPs) have been gaining popularity lately as a potential lower-cost alternative to a standard hearing aid. Most hearing healthcare providers acknowledge that lower-cost (or better health insurance coverage!) options are critical to improving adoption of hearing aid devices to improve quality of life for their patients. However, PSAPs are not hearing aids and their functionality is much less advanced, despite similar outward appearances.
Here’s a quick review of some of the features of each:
Hearing Amplifiers

  • Sleek Design
  • Small size
  • Discretion
  • Volume Amplification
  • Lower cost
  • Easy to buy

Hearing Aids

  • Sleek Design
  • Small size
  • Discretion
  • Volume Amplification
  • Customized to the user’s ear
  • Multi-directional microphones
  • Background noise suppression
  • Can be adjusted as hearing needs change
  • Programmed based on results of hearing tests
  • Telecoil technology to link to sound systems
  • Some link to smart phones

PSAPs are not hearing aids.
PSAPs are often referred to as “over-the-counter” hearing aids, but it is important to clarify that hearing aids are regulated and distributed by licensed hearing healthcare providers. PSAPs are recreational amplification devices used to improve experiences, like going to a concert or movie, and can be purchased online or over-the-counter. This distinction is important because true hearing aids are classified as medical devices and are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), where PSAPs are not.
Why does customization matter?
A personal sound amplifier does just what its name says; it amplifies all sound at the same level. That is its purpose and there is nothing wrong with that in certain situations. The process of hearing, however, is not about the amplification of all sound at the same level. Auditory acuity is the result of the relationship between both ears and the brain and it involves a complicated set of functions tasked with determining sound origin, receiving sound vibrations, converting sound vibrations to electrical impulses and then sending those signals to the brain for processing.
Think of it this way, if you were setting up new speakers in a room, you may adjust the bass and treble to accommodate the positioning, echo, and other room features. Now, imagine doing that when the only control you can use is the volume.
What about the convenience factor?
It is, obviously, more convenient to buy things using the internet and we all lead busy lives. There are certain places, though, where intended use beats ease of purchase. Hearing aids are in that category. Getting the right hearing aid, based on a consultation with a professional and the performance of a hearing test, has far-reaching benefits. Recent research out of Johns Hopkins University found a higher incidence of dementia in patients with hearing loss. This indicates that the ear-brain connection goes far beyond allowing us to hear our favorite song. Trusting that connection to a round of internet shopping may not be the way to go.
Call us today to schedule a hearing health evaluation and to discuss a customized hearing treatment plan.

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