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Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic wristbands that promised to give you immediate and significant pain relief from arthritis and other chronic diseases?

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

The problem had to do with rendering health claims that were not backed by any scientific evidence. On the contrary, powerful evidence existed to reveal that the magnetized wristbands had NO effect 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

Okay, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (besides the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling extraordinarily well. What gives?

Without diving into the depths of human psychology, the straight forward reply is that we have a powerful inclination to believe in the things that appear to make our lives better and quite a bit easier.

On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that sporting a $50 bracelet will wipe out your pain and that you don’t have to bother with high price medical and surgical treatments.

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

        a. Arranging surgery for a total knee replacement

        b. Traveling to the mall to purchase a magnetic bracelet

Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a shot. You already wish to trust that the bracelet will work, so now all you need is a little push from the advertisers and some social confirmation from seeing other people donning them.

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

If it sounds too good to be true…

Bearing in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re suffering from hearing loss; which alternative sounds more attractive?

       a. Booking an appointment with a hearing professional and purchasing professionally programmed hearing aids

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

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

But unfortunately, 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 idea, I’m not suggesting that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t deliver results.

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do work. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers contain a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that pfor that matterick up sound and make it louder. Reviewed on that level, personal sound amplifiers work reasonably well — 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 function best?

These are precisely the questions that the FDA addressed when it released its recommendations on the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

As stated 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 other hand, personal sound amplifiers are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment.”

Although the difference is clear, it’s easy for PSAP producers and retailers to circumvent the distinction by simply not pointing it out. For instance, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This statement is obscure enough to avoid the issue completely without having to define exactly what the slogan “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As reported by by the FDA, PSAPs are basic amplification devices created for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you are looking to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or listening in to faraway conversations, then a $20 PSAP is well suited for you.

If you suffer from hearing loss, on the other hand, then you’ll need professionally programmed hearing aids. Whereas more expensive, hearing aids possess the power and features needed to correct hearing loss. Listed below are a few 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 allow you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
  • Hearing aids come with integrated noise minimization and canceling features, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for optimum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain multiple features and functions that block out background noise, enable phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not typically include any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in various styles and are custom-molded for maximal comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are generally one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you feel that you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the low-cost PSAPs; rather, arrange a consultation with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely measure your hearing loss and will ensure that you get the ideal hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So even though the low-cost PSAPs are enticing, in this case you should go with your better judgment and seek expert assistance. Your hearing is well worth the hassle.