Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic wristbands that vowed to supply instantaneous and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic disorders?

Well, you won’t find much of that marketing anymore; in 2008, the creators of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally required to repay customers a maximum of $87 million because of misleading and fraudulent advertising.1

The problem had to do with making health claims that were not backed by any scientific evidence. On the contrary, strong research existed to reveal that the magnetized wristbands had NO impact on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the maker but did wonders to win the court case for the Federal Trade Commission.2

The wishful thinking fallacy

Fine, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (besides the placebo effect), yet they sold amazingly well. What gives?

Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the quick answer is that we have a powerful inclination to believe in the things that may appear to make our lives better and more convenient.

On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that sporting a $50 wristband will wipe out your pain and that you don’t have to trouble yourself with pricey medical and surgical procedures.

If, for example, you happen to suffer the pain of chronic arthritis in your knee, which decision sounds more attractive?

        a. Booking surgery for a complete knee replacement

        b. Taking a trip to the mall to pick up a magnetic bracelet

Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a try. You already want to believe that the bracelet will work, so now all you need is a little push from the advertisers and some social confirmation from observing other people wearing them.

But it is exactly this natural tendency, along with the inclination to seek out confirming evidence, that will get you into the most trouble.

If it sounds too good to be true…

Keeping in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re suffering from hearing loss; which decision sounds more appealing?

       a. Arranging an appointment with a hearing specialist and obtaining professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Purchasing an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier online for 20 bucks

Just like the magnetic bracelet seems much more appealing than a visit to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier appears much more appealing than a trip to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

Nevertheless, as with the magnetic bracelets, personal sound amplifiers won’t cure anything, either.

The difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers

Before you get the wrong impression, I’m not proposing that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t function.

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do work. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers consist of a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that receive sound and make it louder. Reviewed on that level, personal sound amplifiers work fine — and for that matter, the same is true for the act of cupping your hands behind your ears.

However when you ask if PSAPs work, you’re asking the wrong question. The questions you should be asking are:

  1. How well do they function?
  2. For which type of person do they work best?

These are exactly the questions that the FDA addressed when it created its guidance on the distinction between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

As outlined by the FDA, hearing aids are classified as “any wearable instrument or device designed for, offered for the purpose of, or represented as aiding persons with or compensating for, impaired hearing.” (21 CFR 801.420)3

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment.”

Despite the fact that the distinction is clear, it’s simple for PSAP producers and retailers to avoid the distinction by simply not bringing it up. For instance, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This statement is obscure enough to skirt the matter completely without having to specify exactly what the catch phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As outlined by by the FDA, PSAPs are simple amplification devices meant for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you wish to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or tuning in to distant conversations, then a $20 PSAP is well suited for you.

If you suffer from hearing loss, on the other hand, then you’ll require professionally programmed hearing aids. While more expensive, hearing aids contain the power and features necessary to correct hearing loss. The following are some of the reasons why hearing aids are superior to PSAPs:

  • Hearing aids amplify only the frequencies that you have trouble hearing, while PSAPs amplify all sound indiscriminately. By amplifying all frequencies, PSAPs won’t enable you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
  • Hearing aids have built in noise minimization and canceling functions, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for optimum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain various features and functions that minimize background noise, permit phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not usually have any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in several styles and are custom-molded for optimum comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are typically one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you believe that you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the low-priced PSAPs; instead, make a visit with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely quantify your hearing loss and will make sure that you get the ideal hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So although the low-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this case you should listen to your better judgment and seek professional help. Your hearing is well worth the effort.

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