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What is the exact difference between a hearing aid and a personal sound amplifier (PSA)? One difference is that the personal sound amplifier is being aggressively advertised to the consumer generating a lot of confusion. You generally don’t see comparable advertisements for hearing aids because they are medical devices according to the FDA and can’t be sold without having been prescribed by a a hearing specialist or audiologist. Hearing aids are intended for individuals with hearing problems ranging from slight to profound. They are programmed for each individual person to specifically target their distinctive hearing impairment as determined by the audiologist or hearing aid dispenser.

Personal sound amplifiers, conversely, were created to increase the volume of surrounding sounds for people who have normal hearing. Personal sound amplifiers are occasionally created to look like hearing aids, but they are not. Their only function is to make sounds louder. They are not designed to help with the problems that a hearing-impaired individual may have.

At under $100, personal sound amplifiers are attractive to people on a budget. After all, the best hearing aids run over a thousand dollars. For this reason the FDA cautions that the two different kinds of devices shouldn’t be mixed up. If you are having difficulty hearing, do not buy a PSA without having your hearing checked by a professional hearing specialist. If you have real hearing problems, using a PSA can postpone treatment which could improve your hearing, and in certain situations could even impair your hearing further (for example, by making it possible for you to turn the volume up too high).

So, before you make any final decision about purchasing a device to help your hearing, see your audiologist. Certain cases of hearing loss, for example those due to impacted ear wax, can be treated in a single office visit. Hearing loss attributable to permanent inner ear damage can be considerably improved with properly prescribed and adjusted hearing aids. A hearing instrument specialist or audiologist can figure out the underlying cause of your problem. In certain scenarios you won’t require a hearing aid or a PSA.

If, however, your hearing specialist or audiologist finds no evidence of significant hearing loss, and you are still having difficulty hearing faint sounds, then you can think about purchasing a PSA. When shopping for one, examine the PSA’s technical specs, and only consider those that adequately amplify sounds in the frequency range of human speech (between 1000-2000 Hertz). Also, don’t purchase any personal sound amplifiers that don’t have volume controls and electronically-enforced decibel limits that don’t permit their volume levels to go beyond 135 decibels. A good quality personal sound amplifier has its purposes, and can improve the ability of people with normal hearing to hear weak or distant sounds. The danger in PSAs is mixing them up with hearing aids – which they aren’t. If you think you may have hearing loss, make an appointment to have your hearingevaluated.