What’s the Difference Between Hearing Aids and Amplifiers?

You've probably seen TV commercials for personal sound amplifiers. They show people sitting in restaurants and listening to conversations three tables away, or a mother in the basement hearing her crying baby two floors above. These machines certainly amplify sound, but when you're looking for a treatment to help with hearing loss, are personal sound amplifiers comparable to hearing aids to help you hear better?

What is a Personal Sound Amplifier?

A personal sound amplifier (PSA) makes the sounds around you louder by picking up noises with a microphone and transmitting them into your ear. They are useful for listening to the TV while keeping it quiet in the house, or for hearing children who may be asleep in the next room. But PSAs are not FDA-approved medical devices.

PSAs can be purchased over the phone or internet, and require no medical diagnosis. These devices don’t need to be fitted or programmed – they just make everything louder. They are not intended to treat hearing loss – they are better suited for those without hearing loss, who just want to hear things a little louder for a short period of time. For example, as an audience member at a lecture, or a hunter in the woods.

What is a Hearing Aid?

Hearing aids are tiny computers that are programmed and fitted specifically for your ears. The technology in a hearing aid allows it to distinguish a sound and decide how much to amplify that particular sound in order to compensate for your particular type and degree of hearing loss. Hearing aids are made for a range of hearing impairments, and have specific functions and features that make them customizable for each person’s unique needs and personalized to work best for the type of environment you're in.

Some hearing aids are made for specific recreational activities, and some transmit sound differently to your ear depending on the nature of your hearing loss. Hearing aids don’t just make everything louder. They only amplify the sounds you need to hear, when you need to hear them, while diminishing other sounds around you so you can focus on the conversation at hand.

Can I Get Away With Using a PSA Instead of a Hearing Aid?

This is a common question due to the cost difference between the two devices. And the answer is no. Not for extensive use, anyway. Prolonged use of PSAs instead of hearing aids can cause further hearing loss. While hearing aids help you restore your hearing, PSAs can actually damage your hearing further by amplifying all the sounds and transmitting them directly into your ears at louder than normal levels.

If you suspect that you have a hearing impairment, seek out the care and advice of an experienced audiologist. A professional will be able to determine if you do indeed have hearing loss, and the best course of action to treat any impairment.