Hearing aids are truly a technological marvel—a gizmo as tiny as 5.8mm x 3.6mm can change a hard of hearing person’s life. The science that goes into them is constantly evolving, allowing for greater variety and increased efficiency on all marks. It’s unfortunate, but understandable, that they are such expensive devices. Some of the cheapest hearing aids on the market will still set you back more than a thousand dollars, and that’s just for a single ear. Medicare, Medicaid, and health insurance will rarely cover that price tag either.
If what you’re looking for is an alternative to these devices, you’re not alone. Many people have chosen to purchase a Personal Sound Amplification Product (PSAP) instead, since these are much kinder to your wallet, and studies say may only be slightly less effective than a traditional hearing aid. Let’s look at these devices, and whether they are really worth your time and money.
What Are PSAPs?
Personal Sound Amplification Products are exactly what they sound like: devices designed for personal use that make sounds louder for the user. Like hearing aids, they are electronic devices small enough to fit into a person’s ear and amplify any sounds they catch. PSAPs are composed of a microphone and speaker, an amplifier, and a power source. They also share some of the features hearing aids offer, such as volume control and noise suppression. Unlike hearing aids however, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as they are not intended to treat, diagnose, or cure hearing impairment, and therefore do not fall under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
While exceptions exist, PSAPs are almost always over-the-ear devices. Some of them work with a headset and microphone. These are less practical, but much more efficient in terms of battery life, volume management, and sound filtering. Others look more like wireless earbuds. Recent technological advances in the field of wearables, computational earpieces also known as hearables, has led the PSAP industry to start integrating more additional features into their products like translation and activity tracking.
PSAPs are common in certain fields of work and for recreational activities. Hunters will use these devices to locate their prey quicker and from further away. At church or a lecture, you might need to crank up the volume if you’re in the back and can’t hear thing the speaker is saying. Private investigators also use PSAPs to listen into conversations they would normally not be privy to. And ultimately, yes, people that are coping with loss of hearing do too use PSAPs, although the FDA and many medical associations discourage it.
For starters, Personal Sound Amplification Products are strikingly cheaper than hearing aids. Whereas hearing aids almost always run upwards of $1000, you’ll find PSAPs priced as low as $50. This doesn’t mean you should run to your nearest store and grab the first shoddy amplification device you find though—Consumer Reports actually recommends that you stay away from PSAPs under $50. This is because a lack of regulation from the FDA means PSAPs can be sold without any sort of quality control, so picking up a cheap one will probably result in bad sound quality and could potentially harm your hearing. Still, it speaks to the affordability of these devices that the price range is so much lower than that of hearing aids.
Another reason to consider PSAPs is how easy they are to get. Can't get an appointment with your local audiologist? No problem! Because PSAPs can be bought over the counter and don’t require meeting with a doctor beforehand, it’s as easy as walking into a pharmacy or RadioShack and picking one up from the rack. You should always consult a doctor if you feel your hearing is getting worse before purchasing any sort of amplifying device.
Who Should Get PSAPs?
Ideally, only people who want to augment their normal hearing capacity so they can listen to TV without disturbing others nearby, go bird watching, or do other activities that might call for better hearing should be using Personal Sound Amplification Products. But because the price of hearing aids is so high, it is inevitable that people with loss of hearing will also opt for buying these devices.
People with serious loss of hearing should under no circumstance be considering PSAPs, as they could end up doing themselves more harm than good. The source of hearing loss can be different from one person to another, and unlike hearing aids, which can adjusted for each individual patient, PSAPs are made one-size-fits-all. For those whose loss of hearing is milder, or who are saving for a hearing aid and need a stepping stone for the time being, PSAP’s can be a small, smart purchase—as long as you’re not settling for an inferior device that may jeopardize your hearing.