PSAPs & OTC vs. Traditional Hearing Aids

What's the difference between PSAPs and hearing aids?

If you’ve been searching for hearing amplifiers or solutions, you’ve probably come across a low-cost option called personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs. But what exactly are these hearing amplification devices, and how do they differ from hearing aids? 


Dr. Tom Tedeschi

Dr. Thomas Tedeschi, Au.D.

Chief Audiology Officer, Miracle-Ear

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Three differences between hearing devices

Difference #1: Class of product

PSAPs are basic sound amplifiers for those who do not have hearing loss. The FDA does not regulate them and says they are designed to "increase environmental sounds for non-hearing impaired consumers." On the other hand, hearing aids are FDA-regulated medical devices that are intended to compensate for hearing loss and be customized to your needs.

Difference #2: Amplification style

Most PSAPs amplify all sounds within a given radius, even those you don't want to hear. This can actually damage (instead of help) your hearing. Modern hearing aids, on the other hand, use broadband technology and­ filters to selectively amplify the sounds you need to hear, while reducing background noise and feedback. This can make a huge difference – for example, in a noisy restaurant where amplifying all sounds equally (a companion’s speech plus background noise) would make it virtually impossible to hear a conversation.  

Difference #3: Fit and features

Most PSAPs only consist of a microphone, ampli­fier and receiver (mini-loudspeaker). In addition, they are only available in standard settings and are typically one size fits all. Hearing aids, however, are custom-programmed by a hearing care professional to suit your specific hearing loss and listening needs. Hearing aids are available with advanced features such as directional microphones, tinnitus control and streaming capabilities. They can also be custom-molded for a secure and ultra-comfortable fit.

Hidden dangers of PSAPs

Because they’re not regulated as hearing aids are, PSAPs are often capable of delivering sound at a level that actually damages–not helps–a person’s hearing. In addition, the design of the ear inserts on PSAPs may actually push earwax deep into the ear canal, creating the potential for impacted wax that requires medical attention.

Over-the-counter hearing aids

A new class of products known as over-the-counter hearing aids, sometimes called OTC Hearing Aids or OTC HAs, has recently been introduced into the marketplace. In 2017 the FDA Reauthorization Act was signed into law. It includes a provision that, once regulations are in place, OTC hearing aids will begin to be available to the public and marketed as hearing loss solutions. These sound amplification devices are similar to PSAPs in that they do not require a medical specialist to program them. The lack of a specially trained professional in your hearing care can result in misunderstandings of both your condition and how to best treat it. Additionally, OTC hearing aids are designed to treat mild hearing loss only. Without a full, professional hearing assessment, it’s difficult―if not impossible―to know the full extent of your hearing loss and what your best options are. 

Choose the right hearing device for you

When it comes to choosing the best hearing device for you, here’s a good rule of thumb to follow: Do not purchase any product for a hearing loss — regardless of how it’s classi­fied — unless it requires fitting by a hearing care professional. This will ensure your needs are being met and, most importantly, the device is safe. Schedule your appointment to learn more as well as receive your free hearing test today.

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Invest in your health

Purchasing hearing aids is an investment in your overall health and wellness. Once you have invested into your hearing, it is important to look after your hearing aids, so you can maximize the benefits of your new digital devices. 

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