I get asked this question all the time! According to the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, it is estimated that approximately 38.2 million Americans grapple with some form of hearing loss. This makes hearing loss one of the most common health complications in the US. Since I believe (and research backs me up here) that hearing better makes you feel better, I want you to understand the merits of using either hearing aids or amplifiers to improve their hearing.
Did you know that hearing aids and amplifiers can look the same, but the two are totally different items with different uses? The outer shell is pretty easy to make, but the computer inside it is what will separate the quality of sound.
What Is the Difference Between Hearing Aids & Amplifiers?
For starters, amplifiers or personal sound amplifying products (PSAPs), as they are commonly known, are devices that take all the frequencies in a given environment and equally raise the volume. PSAPs don’t suppress the background noise but instead amplify every sound that is on their radar. Since most individuals with hearing loss struggle when they are in noisy situations, it means that these devices can only be ideal if they are used for leisure. By that I mean, one on one situations with zero background noise.
Therefore, if you are talking one on one with somebody or want to improve the sound during recreational activities such as theater and bird watching, amplifiers are the perfect solution. However, if you want a device that selectively fine-tunes all frequencies when you are in noisy situations, you can bet that PSAPs won’t help. I have read some really misleading advertisements recently with titles like, “PSAPS: the greatest invention of 2020!”, while amplifiers have actually been around for decades.
On the other hand, hearing aids have made immense advancements in the last 10 years and are professionally designed and customized devices that take into account every frequency of an individual’s hearing loss. These devices make all sounds clearer, not just louder. They evaluate the noises around you, categorize them by the type of noise and then use compression to help you focus on the speech you want to hear. Hearing aids help you hear sounds more clearly while amplifiers help you just hear them louder. Hearing aids are regulated and classified as Class 1 medical devices by the FDA, and are best prescribed by a hearing healthcare professional (like me!), while amplifiers are still marketed in something like the wild west. There are few regulations on what they can and can’t say or promote.
Also, amplifiers are generally made in a one-size-fits-all approach. The picture on the right is a common fit that I see for an amplifier. It is sticking out of the ear and is quite noticeable. A custom fit hearing aid like the image on the left is much more discreet and is also more comfortable for daily wear. Hearing aids can even be made completely custom in the ear canal with no portion behind the ear. That custom fit is impossible for a mail order or over the counter amplifier.
The Bottom Line
While amplifiers are cheaper and readily available, they are not meant to be used for hearing loss. They might seem like a quick fix, but they may make your hearing condition even worse. They are designed for people with standard hearing capability that still want to amplify sound for recreational purposes.
On the other hand, hearing aids are an investment in actually correcting your hearing loss and in improving your overall health. So, before you spend your hard-earned cash on a sound improving device, make sure you visit us at Levine Hearing, get checked and tested, and try out a customized hearing aid that resonates with your hearing issues.
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