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What exactly is the difference between a personal sound amplifier (PSA) and a hearing aid? One big difference is that the personal sound amplifier is being heavily promoted in recent months giving rise to quite a lot of confusion. The reason you don’t see lots of advertising campaigns for hearing aids is that they are medical devices, supervised by the Food & Drug Administration, and not available for sale without an individual prescription from a properly licensed doctor, audiologist or hearing instrument specialist. Hearing aids are designed to help individuals with genuine clinical hearing problems; they amplify sounds, but hearing aids also have additional controls and filters which make them programmable to satisfy each person’s hearing requirements.

PSAs, conversely, were developed to increase the volume of surrounding sounds for individuals who have normal hearing. Some personal sound amplifiers look similar to hearing aids, but they are not; all that they do is increase the volume of surrounding sounds. PSAs are not capable of correcting the subtle types of difficulties that hearing-impaired individuals have.

At $100 or less, personal sound amplifiers are appealing to people on a tight budget. After all, the top hearing aids run over a thousand dollars. That is the key reason why the FDA has distributed alerts about PSAs and has developed websites and information campaigns to notify the public about the differences between these types of devices. If you are having trouble hearing, do not purchase a personal sound amplifier without having your hearing tested by a qualified audiologist. Using a PSA when you in fact require a hearing aid has several disadvantages. First it can cause you to postpone evaluation and treatment of your hearing condition. Second, it might damage your hearing further if the personal sound amplifier is used at extremely high volumes.

Before you purchase any device to improve your hearing, see a hearing specialist or audiologist. That is the Food & Drug Administration suggestion to make sure you get the proper care. Some hearing problems, such as simple blockage of the ear canals caused by ear wax, can be treated and your hearing restored in a single office visit. Other sorts of hearing impairment may be more serious and irreversible, but they can also be successfully cared for using quality hearing aids that have been correctly prescribed and adjusted. A hearing specialist can establish the root cause of your problem. In certain scenarios you won’t need a hearing aid or a personal sound amplifier.

After a hearing exam, if your hearing ability is determined to be normal, you may choose a personal sound amplifier if you still have difficulty with particular sounds. If you do this, be sure to only look at PSAs whose specifications state that they effectively amplify sounds between 1000 to 2000 Hz, which is the range of normal human conversation. Get a unit with volume controls that do not allow it to go beyond 135 decibels. That is already extremely over the top! A good quality personal sound amplifier has its purposes, and can improve the ability of those 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 suspect hearing loss, schedule an appointment to have your hearing tested.