Posted on Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Personal Sound Amplification Products aren't a Treatment for Hearing Loss

surprised face

People assume that having hearing loss is kind of like when you can't hear the volume on your television. You just need to turn the dial up. But often someone with hearing loss can hear some sounds really well, but others not so much. So it's more like when you're listening to an old movie and turn up the dial and then suddenly the sound track switches and it's too loud and you startle and quick turn down the dial. This misunderstanding about hearing loss is why the government has issued a warning to let consumers know that products that merely turn the sound up, what's called a personal sound amplification product (PSAP), aren't a treatment for hearing loss.

The government has issued the following warning to consumers: "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." And yet, this isn't something that a lot of people know. Not only does this mean people are wasting their money on a PSAP that won't treat their hearing loss, it means that hearing loss that could be the result of some other medical condition might go undiagnosed.

That's dangerous.

Some forms of hearing loss are the result of serious medical conditions like tumors. So there should be no confusion on this subject. If you're having problems with your hearing, you need to see a hearing health professional!

If you have hearing loss, have seen a hearing health professional, and are still considering using a PSAP despite the government warnings, you're going to want to hear about recent testing comparing PSAP sound quality to hearing aids.

The problem with testing a PSAP against a hearing aid is that you basically have to "dumb down" the hearing aid to have an "equal" comparison. So researchers will limit what a hearing aid can do, limit precise fit of a hearing aid, and other areas where they know that a hearing aid is superior in order to test how "equal" these products do with sound. So basically, these tests having hearing aids fighting with one hand tied behind their back. And, guess what, they're still winning.

Don't believe us? No problem, we like Doubting Thomas here. Below are a list of facts about hearing aids that demonstrate not only why hearing aids are a treatment for hearing loss but why they are markedly better for people with hearing loss than a PSAP.

One Size Doesn't Fit All-PSAPs go with the one size fits all mentality to accommodate many different types of hearing loss. But hearing aids are programmed and fitted and tailored to your personal hearing loss. Yep, your hearing loss is individualized. Sure there are similar types of hearing loss, but each person hears in specific ways. That's because your hearing involves your brain and all the likes and dislikes that make you special. Pat yourself on the back. This personalization is why hearing aids typically require several professional adjustments before they are aligned for an individual’s precise personal needs.

Background Noise Doesn't Stay in the Background-If you've ever been at a crowded party and been unable to hear someone you are talking with you know the truth about background noise. It doesn't stay in the background. It jumps up, makes a scene, and basically makes it harder for you to hear. If you don't have hearing loss, these situations are easier for you. Your brain sorts through what is important and unimportant for you to hear. When you have hearing loss, this task becomes more difficult. Which is why hearing loss can cause exhaustion.

Background noise and hearing aids have a long history. Hearing aid manufacturers and hearing health professionals learned a long time ago that if you turn up the volume on wanted sound, you're also turning up the volume on unwanted sound. This is one of the big problems that hearing aids have worked decades to combat. Today's hearing aids are designed not just to amplify sounds, but to recognize different sounds, and to deliver to the user those sounds that they want to hear. Not only can they sort through different acoustics and wanted and unwanted noises, but they can help focus on one speaker over another speaker. How do they do this? Well chips size and bands all play a role, but so does the use of decades worth of research on algorithms.

Algorithms-Hearing aids use algorithms to sort and categorize sound. Think about the difficult tasks hearing aids have. Background noise can from one direction, many directions like wind, can be stationary, or can move around, or it can be bounced off the acoustics in a room. It can include sounds like fans, refrigerators, the babble of multiple speakers, sharps squeals, and muffled creaks. But that's not the only issues with capturing sound. Because, let's face it, most of us aren't sitting still all day. We move around. We move around when we talk to people or other people move past us or cars whisk by us. This transitory sound can be a real pain when you're trying to hear. But the good news is that now that hearing aids are digital they are meeting this challenge, creating hearing aids that don't just work sometimes in some environments, but that work all the time in all environments. Better still this technology no longer even requires constant user manipulation. Advanced algorithms now allow hearing aid to compensate automatically for environment and background noise.

Channels and Bands-Hearing aid channels and bands allow hearing health professionals to more precisely program a hearing aid to match a specific type of hearing loss. Because your hearing is unique, you might need some sounds louder than others for you to hear comfortably. Having more bands means the hearing aid is more efficient at this high-low personalization of hearing aid sound.

So to recap in a very simplified way, bands higher or amplify the sounds you need to hear and channels decide which sounds are important for you to hear.

How they Fit-Hearing aids are not only fit by a hearing health professional, there are certain models that are measured exactly for your ear or inner ear. To a layperson who doesn't know a lot about the subject, the fit of a hearing aid might not seem like a big deal. But if you think just about the many different shapes of ears, you begin to understand that one size does not fit all. Getting the right impression for an ear mold is something that professionals work very hard at doing. Getting the right fit for your hearing aid doesn't just mean you'll be more comfortable--and therefore more likely to keep using your hearing instrument--it also means that you'll hear better.

These are all reasons you would expect a hearing aid to score better on a test, even one where a hearing aid isn't allowed to use its full technology, so no surprise that it did to better. According to Hearing Review a test comparing HA to PSAP showed, "Overall, these findings showed that the hearing aid produced much better speech intelligibility in all the non-standard spatial configurations. Even in the standard HINT, a significant performance difference was observed between the hearing aid and PC and between the hearing aid."

So does this mean you should never use a PSAP? Well for people with significant hearing loss the answer is most likely yes. For people with very mild hearing loss who need less personalization, the answer varies. The best way to determine which product is best for you is to see your hearing health provider. Your hearing health provider is well aware of all options for hearing loss and can determine if you might benefit from the use of a PSAP. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

Further Reading

Pros and Cons of Multiple Hearing Aid Channels

What is High Frequency Hearing Loss?

Government Resources

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