Ask the Expert: Hearing Aids vs. PSAPs

Dr. Thomas Tedeschi


Dr. Thomas Tedeschi
Chief Audiology Officer, Miracle-Ear

Miracle-Ear Chief Audiology Officer Dr. Thomas Tedeschi answers some of your common hearing-related questions.

Q: I’ve noticed a lot of advertising in magazines and on the Internet for products that promise better hearing; some of them only cost a couple hundred bucks. Can this type of product help my hearing loss?

A: What you’re most likely seeing are ads for personal sound ampli­fication products (PSAPs). These products are NOT hearing aids. In fact, federal law prohibits PSAP companies from calling their products “hearing aids.” However, I can understand why people might confuse PSAPs with hearing aids. Some PSAP advertising comes very close to making claims that can be only be made for hearing aids. Let’s look at some key differences between PSAPs and hearing aids.

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.

A Different Class of Product

Hearing aids are medical devices, intended to compensate for hearing loss, and they are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). PSAPs are designed to “increase environmental sounds for non-hearing impaired consumers,” says the FDA.

Primitive vs. Broadband Amplification

Most PSAPs amplify all sounds within a given radius, while modern hearing aids use broadband technology and ­ filters to precisely match ampli­fication to the individual’s unique hearing loss. 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.

Convenience & Performance Features

Most PSAPs consist of a microphone, ampli­fier and receiver (mini-loudspeaker). They are not available with features that hearing aid wearers enjoy, such as a special telephone ampli­fier, directional microphones or streaming connectivity to smartphones and other audio devices.

Hidden Dangers with PSAPs

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

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, such as your local Miracle-Ear provider. Schedule your appointment to learn more as well as receive your free hearing test today.