Quad Cities, IL/IA

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Personal Sound Amplicfication


By Emily Steffel, Au.D., CCC-A, Audiology Consultants

Recently there has been some commotion surrounding potential FDA approval of a “new” kind of hearing aid: over-the-counter (OTC) amplification. It may surprise people, but this type of device is actually not new at all. They have been around for years, just under various names. You have probably all seen commercials or infomercials for them, seen them sold in the “made for TV” aisle of your local stores, or in the ad inserts of your daily paper. They are PSAP’s, “personal sound amplification products,” regardless of what each company decides to call them. PSAPs are an “out-of-the-box” product that you purchase and stick in your ear as-is. They may have a very basic volume dial, making all sounds louder or softer equally, regardless of a purchaser’s individual needs, or they may have no adjustment capability at all.

So, if PSAPs are already here, why the hoopla? PSAPs were originally intended by the FDA to be used by people with normal hearing who wish to enhance their normal hearing and are not supposed to be sold to people with hearing loss. The U.S. Senate approved a change to this FDA regulation so PSAPs can legally be sold to adults with “self-perceived mild to moderate hearing loss” without any medical checkup or diagnostic testing required.

The difficulty with PSAPs is threefold and lies in the fact that 1.) hearing loss may be caused by many different possible things, some of which are medically treatable and some not; 2.) people are poor judges of actual degree of hearing loss; 3.) PSAPs do not have the ability to help people as fully as an actual hearing aid because there is no way to personalize them for your unique hearing loss.

There are many reasons that a PSAP might not work for you. Some reasons are that you might have wax completely blocking your ears or an ear infection which would have been discovered and treated if you had gone to see your doctor or an audiologist. Your problem might be more complex: you might have more than just mild hearing loss, so the amount of power the PSAP provides is too little, like trying to bail out a sinking ship with a teaspoon — woefully inadequate. You might even have completely normal hearing for vowels but very poor hearing for consonants.

Properly treating hearing loss requires very precise programming of an actual hearing aid to help you understand speech and not just tell that “someone said something.”

So, what makes a hearing aid different? Hearing aids are programmable. Every hearing aid has a tiny computer inside that must be set (or programmed) using a traditional computer and special software. They have multiple “channels” which allows the hearing aid to follow each person’s unique pattern like a very detailed “connect-the-dots” picture. The difference is that instead of making a picture of a sailboat, it recreates the hearing loss pattern within the hearing aid, providing help in the areas that need help and leaving alone the areas that hear normally. They have different program settings for different life situations. Additionally, hearing aids can provide reduction of background noises, helping you hear better when at family get-togethers and at work meetings. They can even provide ear-level noise generation to help relieve the stress of hearing ringing, buzzing, or hissing (tinnitus) all day long.

All this programmability is why qualified and competent hearing care professionals are so vital in the treatment of hearing loss. They are the person who will program your hearing aid based on your own unique hearing loss profile and configuration (obtained via diagnostic hearing testing). This takes both in-depth training on how the hearing aid’s internal computer can be modified as well as knowledge on how these modifications change how the patient hears. Minute program changes can create vast changes in how the wearer hears and how well that person can interact with the world of sound around them. Additionally, the hearing care professional can also teach about good communication hygiene as well as provide auditory rehabilitation and tinnitus counseling. Without the hearing care professional, the hearing aid too becomes nothing more than a “out of the box” product, with no way for the user to access the benefits hidden inside.

There is a world of difference between buying a PSAP at the store and being appropriately fit with a hearing aid by a qualified hearing care professional. It is your life and your hearing, choose wisely.

If you have any questions about this article or your hearing health, please feel free to contact Audiology Consultants at 563-355-7712 or visit audiologyconsultants.com.