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Hearing aids have been in the news recently as legislators are working to deregulate some hearing aid options and sell them over the counter. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Charles Grassley believe that by making hearing aids for mild and moderate hearing loss available over the counter more people will choose to address their hearing loss. The problem is, “over the counter hearing aids” are already available in the form of Personal Sound Amplifiers and they’ve never been widely accepted either.

It is most often the price difference between a hearing aid and a personal sound amplifier product that tempts people to give them a try. It is usually hard to tell from the advertising how the two products differ, aside from price. Personal sound amplifiers are not FDA approved medical devices; they require no medical diagnosis and can be purchased on the Internet or over the counter without a professional fitting. Those people who suspect they may have hearing loss, but don’t feel ready to commit to a hearing aid may see a personal sound amplifier as an attractive option, however many medical professionals will advise against it.

Hearing aids are tiny computers programmed to fit your needs. The technology allows the computer to distinguish between sounds in a fraction of a second and decide what and how much to amplify depending on your needs. A personal sound amplifier simply amplifies all the sounds around you and cannot be adjusted to distinguish between background noise and voices.

Personal sound amplifiers are not hearing aids and they are not designed to properly treat mild to moderate hearing loss like some marketers try to say. We would recommend a personal sound amplifier to someone for recreational use for example, a hunter in the woods, or an audience member at a speaking engagement. They are not designed to be worn comfortably all day long. In fact most are one size fits all.

In conclusion, we applaud the senators’ interest in making hearing aids more accessible however; simply making them available over the counter isn’t a new idea. More work will need to be done to ensure affordable and quality hearing aid options are readily available.