What are PSAPs anyways? Are they hearing aids or not?

Think of Personal Sound Amplification Products – or PSAPs – as sort of a “binoculars for the ears.” These devices are classified by the US Food and Drug Administration as “wearable electronic products that are intended to amplify sounds for people who are not hearing impaired.”

It is important to note first that the FDA does not consider PSAPs medical devices and secondly, keep in mind that they are not hearing aids. Therefore, while they do not require a medical evaluation to use, they should not be used in place of hearing aids if you have been diagnosed with a hearing loss. In fact, using PSAPs to replace hearing aids could further harm your hearing.

However, if you are in need of amplification in a particularly noisy situation or an extra boost in a loud space, then PSAPs are for you.

All About PSAPS

PSAPs are visually similar to hearing aids in some ways: they are sleek, smart, and consist of microphones, amplifiers, speakers, volume control, and a power source. According to Robert Sweetow, professor of otolaryngology at the University of California – San Francisco, “PSAPs have actually been around for a while, but thanks to advances in electronic circuitry and technology, they have gotten smaller, more sophisticated – and more popular.” Without medical device classification, PSAPs are equivalent to reading glasses – which one could buy over the counter without a prescription.

PSAPs are used in a variety of manner, from amplifying speech sounds in a business meeting to listening for birds while hunting. PSAPs are also useful for people who have noticed that their hearing abilities have changed, but their hearing loss is not severe enough for a prescription for hearing aids. The Hearing Review reports that about 26.7 million Americans (age 50+) experience a measurable hearing loss, but “most forms of sensorineural hearing loss are not medically treatable, and without intervention can have a severe impact on an individual’s quality of life.”

AARP tells an anecdote that may be familiar for may people: Alan Bernheimer, a marketing executive, “missed out on conversations in restaurants and at parties. He just sat there, nodding, grinning – and feeling uncomfortable. Hearing tests indicated that his loss was not severe enough for a hearing aid, but Bernheimer wanted to do something.” That’s when he came across PSAPs. For Bernheimer, a Bluetooth-like device with a wireless microphone, which connected to his smartphone, was an excellent option.

Here, it’s important to keep in mind that Alan Bernheimer took a hearing test first – only to learn that his learning loss was not severe enough to be treated by hearing aids. Only then did he look to PSAPs for a solution.

Why It’s Important to Take a Hearing Test

In this day and age, we pride ourselves in taking online tests and using WebMD to diagnose our symptoms. The reality is, hearing loss is a medical condition that could lead to serious consequences to our overall health and well-being if left untreated. While a hearing quiz online might give us some comfort at first about our hearing abilities, it is important to be aware of the realities of hearing loss.

Hearing loss affects people of all ages, though it is more prevalent among older Americans age 65 and up. As a medical condition, hearing loss occurs gradually, often over a long period of time. People end up making accommodations to their hearing loss, by turning up the volume on the TV or asking people to repeat themselves. These are signs of hearing loss and should be heeded as a call to action.

Identifying & Treating Hearing Loss

Before anything else – before searching online for PSAPs or self-diagnosing with a website – schedule a hearing test with your local audiologist or hearing specialist. A hearing test will determine whether you have a hearing loss, and if so, the degree, type, and configuration of your hearing loss. After reviewing your audiogram, your hearing specialist will determine whether a prescription for hearing loss is necessary.

If, in the case of Alan Bernheimer, your degree of hearing loss is too mild for hearing aid treatment, then by all means – look into PSAPs! Even with the help of PSAPs, it is important to remember that our hearing abilities constantly change – so be sure to get an annual hearing test.