There’s a lot of confusion with regards to the difference between these two categories of devices, and that confusion is multiplied by how many ads floating around for low-cost personal sound amplifiers (PSAs), compared with how relatively few you see for hearing aids. You generally don’t see comparable ads for hearing aids in part because they are medical devices according to the FDA and cannot be sold without a prescription by a an audiologist or hearing specialist. Hearing aids are intended for individuals with hearing problems ranging from slight to extensive. They are programmed for each individual person to precisely target their unique hearing impairment as established by the audiologist or hearing aid dispenser.

In contrast, personal sound amplifiers were developed for people with normal hearing. A PSA raises the volume of surrounding sounds by amplifying them. Some personal sound amplifiers appear similar to hearing aids, but they are not; the only thing that PSAs do is increase the volume of surrounding sounds. Personal sound amplifiers are not able to correct the subtle types of problems that hearing-impaired individuals have.

The modest price of PSAs (under $100, instead of thousands of dollars for the best hearing aids) can make them seem attractive to individuals on a limited budget. The enormous difference in price is one of the reasons the FDA has gotten involved establishing information campaigns and websites to make sure that prospective buyers learn the difference. The bottomline is, PSAs are only for people with normal hearing. If you are having trouble hearing in situations where others are not having problems, you need to see a hearing specialist or audiologist for a professional hearing test. If you have real hearing losses, using a personal sound amplifier can postpone treatment that might improve your hearing, and in some cases could even impair your hearing further (for instance, by helping you to turn the volume level up excessively).

Prior to purchasing any device to improve your hearing ability, see a hearing specialist or audiologist. This is the FDA recommendation to ensure that you get the best care. Some hearing problems (say for example a blockage of the ear canals due to a buildup of ear wax) can be corrected in one doctor’s visit. Other types of hearing loss may be more significant or even permanent, but they can also be effectively cared for using good quality hearing aids that have been correctly prescribed and correctly programmed. Trying to ignore the underlying problem by choosing a product that only boosts sound levels can delay appropriate treatment that could possibly lessen the need for either hearing aids or PSAs.

If, however, your hearing instrument specialist or audiologist finds no evidence of serious hearing loss, and you’re still having difficulty hearing faint sounds, then you can consider purchasing a PSA. If you decide to buy a personal sound amplifier, you’ll want to check the specifications carefully and look for one that states it amplifies in the frequency range of human conversation. That range is 1000 to 2000 Hertz. Additionally, don’t purchase any PSAs that don’t come with volume controls and electronically-enforced volume limits that do not allow their volume levels to surpass 135 decibels. A good quality personal sound amplifier has its uses, and can increase the ability of individuals with normal hearing to hear faint or faraway sounds. It should just not be confused with more precise and more sophisticated hearing aids, or be viewed as an alternative to them by individuals who have suffered genuine hearing loss.