For people with hearing loss, without the right hearing aids, the quality of life would not be the same. It can be a very isolated life if such people do not have the proper hearing aid. However, even with the many advancements in hearing aids, there are still many people who do not have them. There are many factors behind this, including high costs and lack of time to consult a professional. To combat this, there is an option of choosing hearing amplifiers, which are a cheaper and more convenient option to use.
Here’s everything you need to know about hearing aids versus hearing amplifiers.
Hearing Aids vs. Hearing Amplifiers – What Are They?
A hearing aid is a small electronic device that is worn inside or behind the ear to help people hear better. It works by making certain sounds louder so that a person with hearing loss can hear better, be able to communicate, and also participate more fully in their daily tasks. A hearing aid helps people hear more, even in noisy conditions. A hearing aid magnifies the sound vibrations that enter the ear. In people with hearing loss, any of the remaining sensory cells present in their inner ear that has not been damaged are able to detect the larger vibrations. They convert these sound vibrations into neural signals and pass them along to the brain.
However, the more these small sensory cells, known as hair cells, are damaged, the more severe is the hearing loss and the greater is the need to have hearing aids to make up for the difference in picking up the smaller vibrations that are lost. If there is too much damage, even the larger vibrations might not be getting converted into neural signals. In such a case, even a hearing aid would not be effective.(1, 2, 3)
Hearing aids are also usually fitted professionally and fine-tuned to the individual’s specific condition. It helps get past the hearing loss by boosting certain frequencies. There are many types and styles of hearing aids available for purchase.
A hearing aid is made up of a microphone, speaker, and amplifier. The microphone picks up the sound, following which the sound gets converted into electrical signals that are then sent to the amplifier. From the amplifier, the sound waves are sent to the ear through the speaker.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates hearing aids as these are classified as medical devices. You need to have a prescription from a doctor or an audiologist to buy a hearing aid.(4)
Amplifiers only make things louder. They do not look at the volume or frequency, and neither do they make them clearer. These are also referred to as personal sound amplification products. Amplifiers use a microphone to pick up sounds. Then the sound is processed and delivered to the individual’s ear at a louder volume. It is essential to keep in mind, though, that manufacturers do not make hearing amplifiers for people who have hearing loss. Instead, it is just made so that people can use them to hear some sounds more clearly, such as when they are bird watching or hunting.
Understanding speech happens when there is a specific balance between certain frequencies. Hearing amplifiers are also unable to separate noise from speech. Neither is there any feedback cancellation or reduction of wind noise when using hearing amplifiers. However, hearing amplifiers are also more convenient to buy as you don’t need a prescription to buy these, and they also cost significantly less, which is why many people with hearing loss often tend to buy these.(5)
The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate hearing amplifiers, and neither do they qualify as medical devices.(6)
Hearing Aids vs. Hearing Amplifiers – Looking at the Differences
Even though both the devices look similar, there are many significant differences between hearing aids and hearing amplifiers. Here’s a look at some of the essential differences between the two devices.
You can only buy most hearing aids after a thorough audiological examination and a doctor’s prescription. Just like a prescription for spectacles, the prescription for hearing aids is also customized to every individual. Hearing amplifiers do not require an evaluation or a prescription.
Hearing aids fall into the category of class 1 medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration, while hearing amplifiers are not considered to be medical devices and, therefore, are not regulated by the FDA.
It is necessary to be clear about conventional hearing aids and hearing amplifiers. You should not confuse these with over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids fall under a new category of hearing aids that are also regulated under class 1 medical devices by the FDA. However, just like hearing amplifiers, OTC hearing aids also do not need you to have a prescription to buy one. The OTC hearing aids, though, are not the same as hearing amplifiers as they are made to correct hearing loss, similar to other hearing aids.(7, 8)
Unlike hearing amplifiers, hearing aids are capable of identifying the specific sounds you have trouble hearing. This is based on your individual prescription, and the hearing aid will make those particular sounds louder and clearer for you. This is how hearing aids help a person with hearing loss follow a conversation going on in a noisy room.
Hearing aids also have many other special features that are not present in most hearing amplifiers. While they can vary depending on the exact brand of hearing aid, but they primarily include the following:
- Bluetooth connection capability
- Reduction of digital noise
- Relief from tinnitus
- App connectivity for the wearer and sometimes even for caregivers
- Reduction of wind noise
- Artificial intelligence
As mentioned earlier, you don’t need a prescription to buy hearing amplifiers, and you don’t have to visit a professional to buy them. While the price varies, but amplifiers are significantly less expensive than hearing aids.
However, the key difference between the two devices is that hearing amplifiers do not work in the same way that hearing aids do. Neither are hearing amplifiers designed to correct the problem of hearing loss. In fact, in some cases, using amplifiers can even worsen the hearing loss.(9)
Hearing amplifiers work by (as the name suggests) amplifying or boosting every sound without differentiating between them. Due to this, they are unable to fine-tune nearby sounds or isolate particular sound frequencies that you have trouble hearing.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), hearing amplifiers are ideal for those people who have very little to no hearing loss, so that it boosts their hearing capabilities in certain situations, such as during bird watching or hunting.(7)
While some top-quality hearing amplifiers can help people who have hearing loss hear some distant sounds more easily, but this is usually why bird watchers and hunters prefer to use them. They are also ideal for people who have very mild hearing loss.
Hearing Aids vs. Hearing Amplifiers – Pros and Cons
Here are some pros and cons of using hearing aids that are approved by the FDA.
These are categorized as class 1 medical devices and are regulated strictly by the Food and Drug Administration.
- They produce natural sounds.
- They have different settings for various hearing environments, including for wind noise reduction.
- They provide a personalized hearing corrections that are customized to your prescription.
- The hearing aids are made after inputs from a hearing professional such as an audiologist.
- The aids can be adjusted by the wearer or by a hearing aid professional.
- Hearing aids help restore hearing abilities when the wearer has them on, which provides relief from isolation and even from symptoms of depression that are commonly observed in people with hearing loss.
- They can be connected to smart devices to stream television, phone calls, and even music.
- They help relieve tinnitus, which is an ear condition where a person experiences ringing or other noises in one or both of the ears.(10, 11, 12)
- Hearing aids can be very expensive.
- They are usually not covered under health insurance.
- There are some aids that come with non-rechargeable batters, and these can be difficult to handle.
- Hearing amplifiers can be purchased without a prescription or by visiting a hearing aid professional.
- They are readily available and accessible.
- They are far less expensive than hearing aids.
- They make distant sounds audible.
- It is a good first step to get before moving to hearing aids.
- The FDA does not regulate them.
- They do not improve hearing loss.
- They make all sounds louder.
- They do not fine-tune nearby sounds.
- They cannot separate between sound frequencies or pitch.
- They can damage your ears and further worsen your hearing.
Hearing aids and hearing amplifiers are not the same. Amplifiers do not provide any hearing correction that hearing aids do. Usually, hearing amplifiers only boost or amplify the sound on all frequencies, but hearing aids are designed specially to allow optimization of the specific sounds that you have trouble listening to.
Even though hearing aids are quite expensive, they are better suited for those people who have hearing loss instead of hearing amplifiers.
However, before deciding on which is the best hearing solution for you, it is best to consult an audiologist or any other hearing professional. They will administer a hearing test first and accordingly provide input on which type of hearing loss you have and what device will be best suited to your individual needs.
- Dillon, H., 2008. Hearing aids. Hodder Arnold.
- Killion, M.C. and Tillman, T.W., 1982. Evaluation of high-fidelity hearing aids. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 25(1), pp.15-25.
- Mills, M., 2011. Hearing aids and the history of electronics miniaturization. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 33(2), pp.24-45.
- Amlani, A.M. and De Silva, D.G., 2005. Effects of economy and FDA intervention on the hearing aid industry.
- Mamo, S.K., Reed, N.S., Nieman, C.L., Oh, E.S. and Lin, F.R., 2016. Personal sound amplifiers for adults with hearing loss. The American journal of medicine, 129(3), pp.245-250.
- Clason, D. and Victory, J. (2019) No, hearing amplifiers are not hearing aids, Healthy Hearing. Available at: https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/51934-The-case-against-personal-sound-amplification-devices (Accessed: November 20, 2022).
- Over-the-counter hearing aids (no date) National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/over-counter-hearing-aids (Accessed: November 20, 2022).
- Center for Devices and Radiological Health (no date) How to get hearing aids, U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/hearing-aids/how-get-hearing-aids (Accessed: November 20, 2022).
- Commissioner, O.of the (no date) Hearing aids and personal sound amplification products: What to know, U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/hearing-aids-and-personal-sound-amplification-products-what-know (Accessed: November 20, 2022).
- Shekhawat, G.S., Searchfield, G.D. and Stinear, C.M., 2013. Role of hearing aids in tinnitus intervention: a scoping review. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 24(08), pp.747-762.
- Del Bo, L. and Ambrosetti, U., 2007. Hearing aids for the treatment of tinnitus. Progress in brain research, 166, pp.341-345.
- Trotter, M.I. and Donaldson, I., 2008. Hearing aids and tinnitus therapy: a 25-year experience. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 122(10), pp.1052-1056.