Have you observed ads for low cost “personal sound amplifiers” (PSAs) on television or in newspapers lately? They are contributing to confusion about the difference between personal sound amplifiers and hearing aids. You generally don’t see similar advertisements for hearing aids because they are medical devices according to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and can’t be sold without having been prescribed by a a hearing instrument specialist or audiologist. Hearing aids are intended to help individuals with reduced but still functional hearing; they have settings and leading-edge microprocessors that can be programmed to match specific hearing difficulties.

In contrast, PSAs were created for people with normal hearing. A personal sound amplifier boosts the volume of surrounding sounds. Some PSAs appear similar to hearing aids, but they are not; all that PSAs do is raise the volume of sounds. PSAs are not able to correct the subtle sorts of difficulties that hearing-impaired people have.

If you are on a tight budget, PSAs might appear to be a more reasonably-priced alternative to hearing aids ($100, as opposed to thousands for top quality hearing aids). The massive variation in price is one good reason the FDA has gotten involved creating websites and information campaigns to make sure that prospective buyers understand the difference. Simply put, personal sound amplifiers are only for people with normal hearing. If you’re having trouble hearing under circumstances where others are not having trouble, you need to see a hearing instrument specialist or audiologist for a hearing exam. Use of a personal sound amplifier when you in fact require a hearing aid has numerous disadvantages. First it can hold up proper assessment and treatment of your hearing loss. Second, it may further hurt your hearing if the personal sound amplifier is used at very high volumes.

Before buying any device to improve your hearing ability, see a hearing specialist or audiologist. That is the Food & Drug Administration advice to ensure that you get the proper care. Certain hearing problems (such as an obstruction of the ear canal due to a ear wax buildup) can be corrected in a single doctor’s visit. Hearing loss due to permanent inner ear damage can be improved with properly fit and adjusted hearing aids. A hearing instrument specialist or audiologist will be able to figure out the root cause of your problem. In certain scenarios you won’t require a hearing aid or a PSA.

That said, if your audiologist or hearing specialist finds no signs of serious hearing loss, but you are still having trouble hearing, you may consider a low-cost personal sound amplifier to help you hear. If you choose to buy a personal sound amplifier, you’ll want to examine the specifications carefully and try to find one that states it amplifies in the frequency range of human speech. That range is 1000 to 2000 Hertz. Additionally, don’t purchase any PSAs that do not have volume controls and electronically-enforced loudness limits that do not allow their levels to exceed 135 decibels. A quality PSA can make weak sounds easier to hear for those with normal hearing, and thus have their purpose. They just should not be wrongly identified as legitimate hearing aids, or be used as an alternative to them by people with true hearing loss.