Hearing aids, on the whole, are expensive. If you want one of the high end models you will probably need to see an audiologist, get a hearing test, be fitted for the device, and then come back for after care and support. While all of these things are absolutely necessary for good hearing health, it can be a little bit of a hassle for people who do not want to take the time.
Hearing amplifiers, on the other hand, can usually be found for less than $100, over-the-counter (OTC), and without setting an appointment with an audiologist. It is estimated that 1-in-3 people over the age of 70 and 1-in-6 people between the ages of 20 and 69 would benefit from hearing aids but do not have them. For many, cost is the biggest hindrance against looking into a hearing aid, and a hearing amplifier could help to overcome that hurdle.
The problem is, however, that hearing amplifiers or Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) and hearing aids are not the same…Not even close. A PSAP simply makes every sound that it picks up louder with no regard to the type or direction of the sound. Without being fitted and supported by an audiologist, those who do purchase hearing amplifiers run the risk of actually hurting their hearing even more by either turning the volume up too high or by allowing the device to get dirty and cause an infection.
The rest of this article will explain how hearing aids work and how they are different from hearing amplifiers. You will also learn some of the features of hearing aids and how much better they are for almost every case of hearing loss than a hearing amplifier.
Understanding How Hearing Aids Work
If you are like most people, you might assume that hearing aids do nothing more than make sound louder so that a person can hear it better. This is not the case. Every case of hearing loss is unique, so it stands to reason that the solution to each unique case of hearing loss would be specific to the case. Hearing aids are actually medical devices that are programmed by a licensed professional based on a person’s prescription or audiogram.
Hearing aids make sounds more understandable, they can filter out background and ambient noises, and they can help with speech comprehension as they separate speech from all other sounds to make it easier to hear. A hearing aid is generally made up of the following components:
- Computer Processor
It is the processor that your audiologist adjusts to match your specific hearing needs. Here are the steps that a hearing aid takes to get sound to your brain:
- The microphone(s) picks up the sounds in your environment.
- The processing chip analyzes all of the sound and immediately adjusts the sounds to customize it to your hearing loss.
- The processed sound is sent to your amplifier to be made louder and easier to hear.
- Once amplified, the sound is sent to your speaker.
- The processed and amplified sound is sent to your inner ear where it is transformed into electrical pulses that your brain can comprehend.
All hearing aids have at least a somewhat similar makeup, but there can be a lot of very significant differences in terms of features and quality depending on how each specific device is made.
Styles of Hearing Aids
There are two types of hearing aids: In-The-Ear (ITE) and Behind-The-Ear (BTE) and each will be described below.
- BTE Hearing Aids
With a BTE hearing aid, the hearing device/processor sits behind your ear and is connected, usually by wire or tubing, to a custom earpiece inside your ear where the processed and amplified sound is released. BTE hearing aids usually have stronger and/or rechargeable batteries and can handle any level of hearing loss from mild to profound. They are not as discreet as ITE hearing aids though with the small size of many microprocessors they are not as noticeable as they used to be. If your hearing loss exceeds the mild level, BTE hearing aids are probably the way to go, and even more so if streaming, connectivity, BlueTooth and other technology is important to you. Here are some of the different styles of BTE hearing aids:
- RIC – Receiver in the Canal
- M&RIE – Microphone and Receiver in the Ear
- BTE with earmold
- ITE Hearing Aids
A hearing aid that sits inside your ear and is not connected to another piece of equipment outside of it. These are the most discreet and often are not noticeable to other people. Because of the size and shape of ITE hearing aids, features, such as battery strength, may not be as powerful as those available in BTE hearing aids. ITE hearing aids are for people with mild to moderate hearing loss that want to still be able to use their natural hearing in addition to their hearing aid. Here are some of the different styles of ITE hearing aids:
- IIC – Invisible in the Canal
- CIC – Completely in the Canal
- ITC – In the Canal
Hearing Aids VS Hearing Amplifiers
A PSAP has one simple purpose and one simple function, it makes sounds louder. They are not selective in the sounds they amplify but simply make every sound that you would normally hear louder. The idea of a PSAP appeals to many people for three main reasons:
- They are far cheaper.
- It seems logical if a sound is louder you could hear it better.
- They are very easy to purchase.
Hearing aids, on the other hand, are more complicated to understand and more difficult to purchase. Hearing aids perform a complex purpose that depends on the wearer and that changes depending on the level of hearing loss and the way different people hear. They are professionally fitted and fine-tuned to account for the frequencies each individual hears better and worse. If given all of the information, anyone who is experiencing hearing loss would choose a hearing aid. However, the cost of a hearing aid and the extra work involved in purchasing one can make many people choose the inferior product.
The most important thing to remember is that your hearing health is very important. Hearing aids can help you converse with your family at home, help you to hear better in crowded environments, connect directly to your television or other audio device, and get you as close to natural hearing as possible. On the other hand, PSAPs make sounds louder, do not help you in conversations, and can even damage your ears when not used correctly.
The following is a list of pros and cons for hearing amplifiers.
- Much less expensive than a hearing aid.
- They are “plug-and-play” in that you do not need a hearing test, a visit to an audiologist, or anything else to get started, all you have to do is buy them.
- Most of them are pretty powerful and can amplify sounds to a high level.
- Great for bird-watching or other quiet activities where you need to hear low or faint noises.
- Easily accessible online or in stores.
- Not regulated by the FDA.
- Not made to be a solution to hearing loss.
- Cannot distinguish between sound frequencies or pitch.
- They do not process sound.
- There are no directionality features.
- Cannot tell the difference between speech and background noise.
- Can damage your ears and even make your hearing worse.
* In almost every scenario where hearing loss is present, a hearing aid is the preferable option. If for no other reason than you need an audiologist to walk you through the process of protecting and enhancing your hearing, hearing aids are the better choice.
Hearing Amplifiers FAQs
- Do hearing amplifiers really work?
Hearing amplifiers work to make sounds louder, but they are not a solution to hearing loss. Audiologists and other hearing healthcare professionals do not recommend hearing amplifiers nor do they recommend any other device that is not approved by the FDA. Hearing aids are medical devices that help to solve the problem of hearing loss, PSAPs are devices that make sounds louder in your ears. They do work for certain recreational activities or if your hearing is ok and you need them for certain challenging activities, but they are not a solution to hearing loss.
- Are hearing amplifiers safe?
Hearing amplifiers can be but are not always safe. If you turn them up too loudly they can actually damage your ears or even cause greater hearing loss than what you already had. One of the things that makes hearing aids safe is that an audiologist fixes your settings and features for you while with a hearing amplifier you do it all yourself.
- What is the best inexpensive hearing aid?
There are a lot of inexpensive hearing aids on the market, almost all of the major brands have an affordable line and there are others as well. Some of our favorites include the MD hearing aid, Widex Unique, Oticon Ruby, and Phonak Audeo Marvel. Even the least expensive hearing aids will cost you more than $1,000 after all of your expenses, but they are worth the price.
- Can wearing a hearing amplifier make your hearing worse?
If you turn the volume up too loudly in a hearing amplifier it can definitely hurt your ears or make your hearing worse. Noise induced hearing loss is the most common form of hearing loss and the biggest reason that people need hearing aids in the first place. Without a licensed professional tuning the settings of your device, it is easy to turn the volume up too high and the same effects that happen at a loud concert can happen with your hearing amplifiers.
- Can you wear a hearing amplifier in one ear and a hearing aid in the other?
There would never be a reason to wear an amplifier in one ear and a hearing aid in the other. It would be the same issues that you would run into if you decided to wear just one hearing aid rather than two. Even when you suffer from different levels of hearing loss in your ears, your audiologist will recommend that you wear a hearing aid in both ears.
There is a reason that every audiologist, ENT, and other hearing health professionals would advise you to use a hearing aid to fight hearing loss. They are customized to your specific situation and they help your hearing on a variety of levels. Hearing amplifiers do one thing and one thing only, they make the sounds that you would normally hear louder. That may sound like what you need in a hearing device, but it is not. Amplifiers are not FDA-approved, they are not a hearing loss solution, and they are not customized to your situation. In fact, in some instances, a hearing amplifier can actually make your hearing worse or cause other issues with your ears. Be careful about using a hearing amplifier for anything more than recreational or temporary use and if you are experiencing hearing loss on any level we would suggest seeing an audiologist and deciding which hearing aid would be best for you.