Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetized bracelets that promised to offer immediate and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic diseases?
Well, you won’t find much of that marketing anymore; in 2008, the producers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally obligated to return customers a maximum of $87 million due to deceptive and fraudulent advertising.1
The issue had to do with rendering health claims that were not endorsed by any scientific facts. In fact, strong research existed to reveal that the magnetized wristbands had NO effect on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the maker but did wonders to win the court case for the Federal Trade Commission.2
The wishful thinking fallacy
Fine, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (above the placebo effect), yet they sold extremely well. What gives?
Without diving into the depths of human psychology, the quick reply is that we have a strong inclination to believe in the things that seem to make our lives better and more convenient.
On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that wearing a $50 wristband will get rid of your pain and that you don’t have to trouble yourself with high price medical and surgical procedures.
If, for instance, you happen to suffer the pain of chronic arthritis in your knee, which alternative sounds more attractive?
a. Scheduling surgery for a complete knee replacement
b. Traveling to the mall to purchase a magnetic bracelet
Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a try. You already want to trust that the bracelet will get the job done, so now all you need is a little push from the marketers and some social confirmation from having seen other people wearing them.
But it is exactly this natural inclination, along with the tendency to seek out confirming evidence, that will get you into the most trouble.
If it sounds too good to be true…
Bearing in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re having difficulties from hearing loss; which alternative sounds more attractive?
a. Arranging a consultation with an audiologist and obtaining professionally programmed hearing aids
b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier online for 20 bucks
Just like the magnetic wristband seems much more attractive than a visit to the doctor or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems much more attractive than a visit to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.
However, as with the magnetic bracelets, personal sound amplifiers won’t cure anything, either.
The difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers
Before you get the wrong impression, I’m not proposing that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t function.
On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do work. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers are made with a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that detect sound and make it louder. Considered on that level, personal sound amplifiers work reasonably well — and for that matter, the same is true for the act of cupping your hands behind your ears.
But when you ask if PSAPs work, you’re asking the wrong question. The questions you should be asking are:
- How well do they deliver the results?
- For which type of person do they function best?
These are precisely the questions that the FDA answered when it posted its guidelines on the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.
As outlined by the FDA, hearing aids are defined as “any wearable instrument or device designed for, offered for the purpose of, or represented as aiding persons with or compensating for, impaired hearing.” (21 CFR 801.420)3
On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment.”
Although the distinction is transparent, it’s simple for PSAP manufacturers and sellers to get around the distinction by simply not discussing it. For instance, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This assertion is vague enough to skirt the issue completely without having to describe exactly what the phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.
You get what you pay for
As reported by by the FDA, PSAPs are straightforward amplification devices intended for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you want to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or tuning in to far off conversations, then a $20 PSAP is perfect for you.
If you have hearing loss, on the other hand, then you’ll require professionally programmed hearing aids. While more expensive, hearing aids provide the power and features necessary to correct hearing loss. Listed below are a few of the reasons why hearing aids are superior to PSAPs:
- Hearing aids amplify only the frequencies that you have difficulty hearing, while PSAPs amplify all sound indiscriminately. By amplifying all frequencies, PSAPs won’t make it possible for you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
- Hearing aids have built in noise reduction and canceling features, while PSAPs do not.
- Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for optimum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
- Hearing aids contain various features and functions that minimize background noise, provide for phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not typically contain any of these features.
- Hearing aids come in several styles and are custom-molded for maximum comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are as a rule one-size-fits-all.
Seek the help of an audiologist
If you think that you have hearing loss, don’t be tempted by the inexpensive PSAPs; rather, set up a visit with an audiologist. They will be able to accurately appraise your hearing loss and will ensure that you receive the right hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So while the low-priced PSAPs are enticing, in this case you should go with your better judgment and seek professional help. Your hearing is well worth the work.
- Federal Trade Commission: Appeals Court Affirms Ruling in FTCs Favor in Q-Ray Bracelet Case
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of “ionized” wrist bracelets on musculoskeletal pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
- Food and Drug Administration: Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: Regulatory Requirements for Hearing Aid Devices and Personal Sound Amplification Products