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Hearing Aids vs. Amplifiers

Hearing Aids and Amplifiers

Although hearing aids and hearing amplifiers serve similar purposes, they are very different devices. 


Amplifiers, sometimes known as personal sound amplifying products, or PSAPs, are designed to increase all environmental sounds for people with hearing loss. PSAPs are not capable of distinguishing between what sounds they amplify. PSAPs are generally advertised and used for listening to infants or children in another room, and to improve sound quality for recreational activities like birdwatching or going to the theatre.


Unfortunately, some people have begun to misuse PSAPs as over-the-counter hearing aids. PSAPs are less expensive than hearing aids, and also provide a cheaper listening experience. Hearing aids perform a complex function using specific algorithms based on the wearer and the environment, whereas PSAPs amplify all sounds. 



Hearing aids are professionally fit and adjusted by an audiologist to a patient’s specific needs and his/her specific hearing loss. Amplifiers make all sounds louder, regardless of the frequency or the volume. Hearing aids are tailored for individuals with hearing loss, while PSAPs are meant for people with normal hearing. 


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also wants to ensure that consumers do not mistake or substitute PSAPs for hearing aids. The FDA notes that PSAPs and hearing aids are similar in that they improve audibility, are wearable, and function somewhat similarly, but the products are different in that only hearing aids are intended to treat impaired hearing. The FDA has issued guidance describing how hearing aids and PSAPs are different, defining a hearing aid as a sound-amplifying device intended to compensate for impaired hearing; PSAPs are not intended to make up for hearing impairment. Instead, PSAPs are intended for non-hearing-impaired consumers to amplify sounds in the environment for a number of reasons, including recreational activities. While PSAPs and hearing aids might seem similar at first glance, they couldn’t be more different. One is meant for recreational use, whereas the other is a recommended treatment for hearing loss. Buying an amplifier instead of a hearing aid might seem like the easy way out, but it might do more harm than good.


Before pursuing amplification, whether with a hearing aid or PSAP, it’s important to determine why it’s needed and what the expectations are. If someone is interested solely in hearing more during birdwatching or another recreational activity, they might benefit from using a PSAP. However, if they are getting a PSAP because they have difficulty hearing, there might be an issue. 




Consumers should only consider purchasing a PSAP after ruling out hearing loss as a reason for getting one. Furthermore, potential consumers should also undergo a hearing examination before purchasing a PSAP. A trained audiologist can help identify a potential hearing loss. From there, it can be determined if hearing aids can be beneficial in solving the issue in a safe and efficient manner. 


If you or someone you know has a suspected hearing loss, a hearing evaluation should be obtained from an audiologist to determine any medically or surgically treatable solutions. Those exhibiting symptoms should seek professional care. Some signs that you may be suffering from hearing loss include:

  • People say you are shouting when you talk to them

  • You need the television or radio turned up louder than other people

  • You often ask people to repeat themselves because you can’t hear or understand them, especially in groups or in background noise

  • You can hear better out of one ear than the other

  • You have to strain to hear

  • You can’t hear a dripping faucet or a high note on the piano


If you or anyone you know is experiencing possible signs of hearing loss, reach out to one of our offices for a hearing evaluation and consultation to discuss different hearing options.


Rachel Murphy, AuD, CCC-A

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