PSAPs vs. hearing aids

by Nancy Salim

With all the different hearing devices on the market, it’s easy to feel confused by the options. There are off the shelf options, also known as personal listening devices (PSAPs) or assistive listening devices, and there are hearing aids dispensed by a professional and programmed to an individual’s unique hearing loss.

As more people experiencing hearing loss turn to PSAPs because of their entry level price and over the counter convenience, the FDA says they are willing to consider PSAPs as a solution to certain types of hearing loss.

That sounds good right?  It is, as long as it doesn’t make treating hearing loss more confusing.

Not seeing a professional at the beginning, and instead treating hearing loss with DIY solutions like a PSAP, could end up undermining your hearing, costing you more money and ultimately not give you the results you’re looking for. A pair of hearing aids programmed to your specific loss can make a huge difference.

So when is it okay to use a PSAP? YourHearing breaks it down.

Let’s start with the differences between a PSAP and a hearing aid.

PSAPs aren’t meant to replace hearing aids—they’re off-the-shelf sound amplifiers that are worn in or around the ear, similar to Bluetooth devices or earphones used with MP3 players, for people with normal hearing or with a mild hearing loss who need help hearing in certain settings, like listening to the TV. They’re not recommended for those with moderate to severe loss. PSAPs are sometimes referred to as hearing aids which can be confusing. One easy way to tell—if you’re buying them over the counter they’re a PSAP, which means they also can’t be programmed to your specific hearing loss. Studies have shown that PSAPs may benefit someone whose hearing loss is much greater in the low frequencies, with practically normal hearing in the highs—which isn’t too common—but it can be helpful for those with normal hearing who just need a boost.

While PSAPs are off the shelf, digital hearing aids are FDA regulated devices which require the user to see a hearing care professional and get their hearing tested first. The test results, called an audiogram, show the frequency of loss measured in decibels, and helps determine the right solution that can be customized to your unique hearing loss, similar to how your eye glass prescription helps determine the strength of the lens you need for each eye. Today’s hearing aid technology uses a step-by-step procedure called an algorithm to analyze and categorize sounds. In microseconds, hearing aids analyze and process different sounds then deliver them to your ears with spot-on accuracy. Hearing aids also have the ability to learn what sounds you prefer and which you’d rather not hear at all. In other words, today’s devices not only mimic your natural hearing brain through sophisticated algorithms, they adjust and learn just like your brain too. Many digital aids can be connected to your phone, computer and iPad. They can have features like waterproof, Bluetooth compatible, wind-noise reduction, FM compatible and more that can be added to meet your listening and lifestyle needs.

Before making a decision, it’s important to take the following steps.

Book a hearing exam. If you have signs of hearing loss, a hearing care professional will be able to tell you if what you’re experiencing is hearing loss or another condition like an ear infection or excess wax. If it turns out you do have a loss—the professional will use the results of your exam to recommend treatment. If you’re tempted to go the amplification route with a PSAP make sure you discuss it with your provider. They’ll be able to tell you if PSAPs or hearing aids are appropriate for your type of loss before you spend money on the wrong solution.

Demo a pair of hearing aids. After you have your hearing test results, you can demo a pair of hearing aids that allow you to test drive the technology. A hearing professional will be able to program your hearing aid to your type and degree of loss.

Be patient. It can take anywhere from two weeks and up to get used to the new routine of wearing hearing aids. Your brain needs to adjust and adapt to processing sounds that it’s hearing. Try to increase the time you wear your hearing aids each day until you’re comfortable wearing them for a full day.

Like everything else, it’s important to set realistic expectations about what hearing aids can and cannot do. Hearing loss—of any degree—is usually permanent. While hearing aids won’t restore your hearing to normal, they may help you hear better, and improve your communication and comprehension.

Don’t give up—go easy on yourself and give yourself time to adjust to your hearing aids.

Remember, your hearing changes over time, so what works for you today might not work tomorrow. If a PSAP is right for you today, over time it may not be, and you’ll need to upgrade technology to a hearing aid. The best way to stay on track is to schedule a yearly hearing test to know when your hearing has changed.

Ready to find out what solution is right for you? We make it easy. Give us a call to get connected with a clinic near you, 888.902.9310 or visit

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