Hearing aids and amplifiers. What's the difference?
A quick search of hearing aids or hearing devices on the internet will make even the most keen researcher stop to scratch their heads. Hearing aids. Personal sound amplification products (PSAPs). Hearing amplifiers. Prices ranging from 30 Euro a device to 2000 Euro a device. So, what's the difference here?
We can broadly class the devices into hearing aids and amplifiers.
Group 1: Hearing aid
A hearing aid is classed as a medical device and should be dispensed by a registered healthcare professional (in Malta, this would normally be an Audiologist). Hearing aids are rigorously tested and the latest models feature advanced technologies such as mobile connectivity, directional microphones and advanced feedback cancellation (to avoid whistling). Hearing aids also come in different forms to cater for different hearing loss types or patient needs. Hearing aids are also set precisely to an individual's hearing loss to give adequate amplification, without causing any further harm to hearing.
Group 2: Amplifier
This group includes, PSAPs, hearing amplifiers and any device that cannot be legally called a hearing aid. They mostly consist of a basic amplifier with some added features similar to hearing aids. However, the big difference here is that these devices are not classed as medical devices. Pretty much anyone can start manufacturing them with minimal safety standards in place to protect the user from further damage to their hearing. Amplifiers also boost sound with no consideration of the type of hearing loss the patient has. This means that the result is not tailored to the hearing loss, making some sounds too quiet and others too loud. These products can normally be found online or through retailers (not a medical source). All of the above factors mean that amplifiers can be found at really cheap prices, but are far less durable than hearing aids (some lasting only a few months before replacement).
1) Hearing aids come with the support of an Audiologist, which is key to getting the most out of the hearing aid.
2) A hearing aid gives you peace of mind that it is a robust, tested and safe to use device.
3) Hearing aids come with a warranty and are more durable long term.
4) Research indicates that PSAPs are only effective for milder losses (Cho et al., 2019).
5) Hearing aids result in a much more individualized result, making them suitable for the majority of hearing losses.
6) Price. Hearing aid prices run in the hundreds or thousands of Euros.
What should you choose?
Apart from the price, hearing aids are a clear winner when comparing the different devices available. Amplifiers may be suitable for someone who has a diagnosed mild hearing loss and might want to get into the world of hearing devices without spending too much initially. However, a hearing aid makes much more sense in the long term. A hearing aid needs to be looked at as an investment. You are paying for the research that went into producing an advanced technological device as well as the highly qualified and specialized support that you will be getting from your audiologist. The device itself can also last you over 10 years if taken care of and maintained regularly. So, if you want a hearing device that is safe as well as gives you the best hearing possible, a hearing aid is the clear winner here.
Cho YS, Park SY, Seol HY, et al. Clinical Performance Evaluation of a Personal Sound Amplification Product vs a Basic Hearing Aid and a Premium Hearing Aid. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2019;145(6):516–522. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2019.0667