Why Hearing Amplifiers And Hearing Aids Aren’t The Same
A quick internet search for “hearing amplifiers” will yield a number of sites selling hearing devices that claim miraculous hearing benefits. So-called hearing amplifiers often look just like hearing aids and falsely claim to have similar features and results, including great clarity of speech in environments with a lot of background noise. We’re going to carefully analyse the differences between hearing amplifiers and hearing aids to help you make smart decisions for your hearing health.
Hearing devices can be classified into two categories including:
- Personal sound amplifiers: Also known as Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAP), these are wearable electronic products intended to make all sounds louder for people who are hard of hearing. Other terms often used to refer to PSAPs include “hearing amplifier aid”, “digital sound amplifier”, “sound amplifier,” and “voice amplifier.”
- And hearing aids: Hearing aids are wearable electronic devices designed to improve hearing by making selected sounds audible to people with hearing loss.
Hearing aids can be costly and the temptation to try a cheap alternative that can easily be purchased online, without prescription or comprehensive hearing test, is understandable. These personal sound amplification products look like hearing aids and are often marketed to be used in the same way. However, the products are designed for different purposes.
Amplifiers Are Not Hearing Aids
In Australia, therapeutic goods are assessed and monitored in terms of their quality and performance, by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The purpose of this regulatory authority is to maintain a high standard for therapeutic goods in the country.
Whilst hearing aids are regulated by the TGA, personal amplifiers are not.
Image Source: Rozette Rago Personal amplifier
The Difference Between Hearing Aids And Personal Amplifiers
The difference between a hearing aid and a personal amplifier is primarily in their purpose.
A hearing aid is designed for someone with a hearing impairment and is programmed specifically to the individual’s loss to help them manage their hearing health effectively.
Technology levels vary according to the hearing aid you choose, however, all hearing aids fitted by an experienced Audiologist will be programmed to your hearing test results. The aids will then be adjusted as needed to ensure you find the sound comfortable.
Hearing aids have three main components:
- Microphone: The microphone detects sounds and converts the sound to an electric signal which is then sent to the processor or amplifier.
- Processor/amplifier: The processor/amplifier takes the electric signal and converts it to a digital signal. It is at this point that adjustments can be made to precisely suit an individual’s hearing loss and needs. Feedback cancellation takes place, as does wind and noise reduction. The sound is converted back to an analogue signal and sent to the receiver.
- Receiver: The receiver changes the signal to an enhanced, audible sound for the individual to hear and enjoy.
A personal hearing amplifier is designed for someone with normal hearing. It is meant to be used in specific situations when only a small amount of amplification for all sounds is needed, for example, when watching TV, or birdwatching. These amplifiers do just that – make sounds louder. They do not require a hearing assessment to be done, or any personal information to be considered. Amplifiers do not accurately separate speech from noise and they are not customised to compensate for your individual hearing loss.
PSAPs take a one-size-fits-all approach and in very specific situations they can provide benefits. They offer an alternative to turning the volume of the TV up and can help avid bird watchers identify birds by amplifying their calls.
Do I Need a Personal Amplifier or a Hearing Aid?
The first thing that needs to be established is whether you have a hearing loss and if so, what is the precise nature and degree of the loss. The support required is based on the sounds that are missing, so the initial step is to have a comprehensive diagnostic hearing test with a trusted audiologist.
They will test how well you hear across various frequencies and will establish whether a hearing loss is:
- Sensorineural: A permanent loss caused by damage to the inner ear
- Conductive: A potentially temporary or fluctuating loss caused by damage to the middle or outer ear
- Or a combination of the two, which is known as a mixed hearing loss.
This is important because the more accurately the device understands what sounds you are missing, the better the sound quality and the more beneficial the device.
Personal Amplifiers: Things to Consider Before Purchase
Even when being used correctly for the intended purpose, there are some areas of concern worth noting before purchasing a personal amplifier. Despite being designed for people with normal hearing, they do have access to a volume control which leads to the potential for damaged hearing through overamplification.
If a hearing loss is apparent but has remained unidentified, a personal amplifier is very unlikely to be providing the appropriate volume at the appropriate frequencies. This potential for under-amplification will result in the device not being beneficial. In fact, if the amplifier is an in-the-ear style, the device could have the opposite effect by blocking the ear and impeding hearing.
In addition, an undiagnosed hearing loss could be the result of an underlying medical condition that requires further investigation. Without a comprehensive hearing assessment, the medical condition could slip through the cracks and remain undiagnosed and unexamined.
Purchasing a Hearing Device
When purchasing hearing aids in Australia through an accredited audiologist, you can be assured that the aids are being fitted appropriately. They will be programmed specifically for your hearing loss and fit the ear securely and comfortably. Your audiologist will provide you with all the information needed to operate the hearing aids confidently and achieve optimal outcomes.
When purchasing a personal amplifier, the information that is provided depends on where you get the device. For example, if you purchase through Reader’s Digest, it is stated that personal amplifiers are “intended to be used by people with normal hearing”. Other online sites offer misleading advertising such as “suitable for the deaf, the elderly, the hearing impaired”. Claims of “fits either ear” and “no fiddly programming required” are used to promote the products. However, devices need to be programmed to each ear individually to be truly beneficial.
The take-home message is that hearing aids are not amplifiers and hearing amplifiers are certainly not hearing aids! A hearing aid is a solution for someone with hearing loss. It can be a significant investment but one that will provide the right volume at the frequencies needed, and the results can be life-changing.
There is a place for personal amplifiers, but it is limited to those with normal hearing who have specific listening needs in particular environments. A comprehensive hearing test should be conducted to determine whether a hearing loss is present and to ensure no additional medical investigation into the loss is warran ted.
Attune Hearing is Australia’s only accredited hearing healthcare. We offer free 15-minute hearing tests and a range of hearing aids for every budget, hearing need and lifestyle. Call us on 1300 736 702 to book an appointment with one of our highly qualified audiologists today!