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

Well, you won’t see much of that marketing anymore; in 2008, the creators of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally required to return customers a maximum of $87 million as a consequence of deceitful and fraudulent advertising.1

The problem had to do with rendering health claims that were not endorsed by any scientific facts. In fact, powerful research was there to reveal that the magnetic wristbands had NO impact on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the producer but did wonders to win the court case for the Federal Trade Commission.2

The wishful thinking fallacy

Fine, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (beyond the placebo effect), yet they sold amazingly well. What gives?

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

On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that sporting a $50 wristband will get rid of your pain and that you don’t have to bother with high priced medical and surgical treatments.

If, for instance, you happen to suffer from chronic arthritis in your knee, which decision seems more appealing?

        a. Booking surgery for a total knee replacement

        b. Traveling to the mall to purchase a magnetic bracelet

Your instinct is to give the bracelet a chance. You already want to believe that the bracelet will do the job, so now all you need is a little push from the marketers and some social confirmation from observing other people donning them.

But it is specifically this natural desire, along with the tendency to seek out confirming evidence, that will get you into the most trouble.

If it sounds too good to be true…

Keeping in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re having difficulties from hearing loss; which option sounds more desirable?

       a. Arranging a consultation with a hearing professional and purchasing professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Purchasing an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the internet for 20 dollars

Much like the magnetized bracelet seems much more appealing than a trip to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems to be much more desirable than a visit to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

However, as with the magnetized wristbands, 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 function.

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do deliver results. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers contain a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that receive sound and make it louder. Regarded 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 deliver the results?
  2. For which type of people do they function best?

These are precisely the questions that the FDA answered when it introduced its advice on the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

As outlined by the FDA, hearing aids are defined 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

Quite the opposite, personal sound amplifiers are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment.”

Even though the difference is clear, it’s simple for PSAP manufacturers and sellers to get around 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 claim is vague enough to avoid the matter entirely without having to describe exactly what the catch phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As outlined by by the FDA, PSAPs are basic amplification devices ideal for those with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you want to hear better while hunting, bird watching, or listening in to far off conversations, then a $20 PSAP is ideal for you.

If you suffer from hearing loss, however, then you’ll require professionally programmed hearing aids. While more costly, hearing aids provide the power and features needed to correct hearing loss. Here 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 make it possible for you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
  • Hearing aids come with built in noise minimization and canceling features, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be perfected for optimum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain multiple features that minimize background noise, permit phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not typically come with any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in diverse styles and are custom-molded for maximal comfort and cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are as a rule one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you suspect you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the low-priced PSAPs; instead, arrange a consultation with a hearing specialist. They will be able to accurately quantify your hearing loss and will ensure that you receive the ideal hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So even though the low-priced PSAPs are enticing, in this instance you should go with your better judgment and seek professional help. Your hearing is worth the effort.

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