What is a Hearing Amplifiers?

You’ve likely seen them advertised on television—small electronic sound amplifiers that allow users to enjoy nighttime TV without disturbing sleepers, or to hear their toddlers from many yards away.

While these personal sound amplifiers may help people hear things that are at low volume or at a distance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to ensure that consumers don’t mistake them—or use them as substitutes—for approved hearing aids.

“Hearing aids and personal sound amplification products (PSAPS) can both improve our ability to hear sound,” says Eric Mann, M.D., Ph.D, deputy director of FDA’s Division of Ophthalmic, Neurological, And Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices. “They are both wearable, and some of their technology and function is similar.”

Mann notes, however, that the products are different in that only hearing aids are intended to make up for impaired hearing.

He says consumers should buy a personal sound amplifier only after ruling out hearing loss as a reason for getting one. “If you suspect hearing loss, get your hearing evaluated by a health care professional,” he adds.

Choosing a PSAP as a substitute for a hearing aid can lead to more damage to your hearing, says Mann. “It can cause a delay in diagnosis of a potentially treatable condition. And that delay can allow the condition to get worse and lead to other complications,” he says.

Treatments for impaired hearing can be as simple as removal of a wax plug in the doctor’s office or, in rare cases, as serious as a major surgery to remove a tumor or growth in the middle or inner ear, says Mann.

The Difference between Hearing Aids and Hearing Amplifiers

In March 2009, FDA issued guidance describing how hearing aids and personal hearing amplifiers devices differ.

The recently issued guidance defines a hearing aid as a sound-amplifying device intended to compensate for impaired hearing.

PSAPs are not intended to make up for impaired hearing. Instead, they are intended for non-hearing-impaired consumers to amplify sounds in the environment for a number of reasons, such as for recreational activities.

The difference between PSAPS and hearing aids are among the topics covered in a new Web page devoted to hearing aids that FDA launched today.

Signs of Loss of Hearing

Mann says that consumers who suspect they suffer from hearing loss should obtain a thorough medical evaluation, preferably by an ear specialist, to identify any medically or surgically treatable causes of hearing loss. Persons exhibiting symptoms of hearing loss should see a doctor or hearing health care professional to have their hearing tested.

You may have hearing loss if

  • people say you are shouting when you talk to them
  • you need the TV or radio turned up louder than other people do
  • you often ask people to repeat themselves because you can’t hear or understand them, especially in groups or when there is background noise
  • you can hear better out of one ear than the other
  • you have to strain to hear
  • you can’t hear a dripping faucet or a high note of a violin

What are hearing amplifiers actually good for?

Hearing amplifiers are good for anyone who just wants to hear things louder. For example, people with normal hearing might sparingly use an amplifier for activities like birdwatching. You can think of amplifiers as binoculars for your ears: they zoom in on what you can hear already so you can appreciate it a bit more.

Do you need a hearing aid or hearing amplifier?

The best way to answer this question is by getting your hearing tested. If you have trouble understanding speech or you listen to the TV too loud, then it might be time to visit your local hearing specialist. They will be able to tell you if you’re experiencing hearing loss and would recommend hearing aids. Don’t assume your hearing isn’t that bad. Seek the help of a hearing care professional so that you make the right decision.

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