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Do you remember the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetized wristbands that vowed to grant instant and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic conditions?

Well, you won’t find much of that promoting anymore; in 2008, the producers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally required to give back customers a maximum of $87 million as a result of deceptive and fraudulent advertising.1

The problem had to do with rendering health claims that were not supported by any scientific facts. For that matter, powerful research existed to reveal that the magnetized wristbands had NO influence 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

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

Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the simple response is that we have a strong bias to believe in the things that appear to make our lives better and easier.

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

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

        a. Booking surgery for a total knee replacement

        b. Going to the mall to pick up a magnetized bracelet

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

But it is precisely this natural tendency, along with the inclination 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 suffering from hearing loss; which approach sounds more appealing?

       a. Scheduling a consultation with a hearing professional and acquiring professionally programmed hearing aids

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

Just as the magnetic bracelet seems much more desirable than a visit 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 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 saying that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t work.

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 detect sound and make it louder. Viewed on that level, personal sound amplifiers work fine — 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 work?
  2. For which type of individual do they function best?

These are exactly the questions that the FDA addressed when it published its guidance on the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

According to 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

On the contrary, 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 distinction is transparent, it’s simple for PSAP manufacturers and sellers to get around the distinction by simply not pointing it out. For example, on a PSAP package, you may find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This assertion is unclear enough to skirt the issue entirely without having to describe exactly what the phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As reported by by the FDA, PSAPs are straightforward amplification devices designed 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 tuning in to distant conversations, then a $20 PSAP is well suited for you.

If you suffer from hearing loss, however, then you’ll need professionally programmed hearing aids. Whereas more costly, hearing aids provide the power and features required to address hearing loss. The following are some 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 easy for 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 maximum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain multiple features that minimize 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 several styles and are custom-molded for optimum comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are ordinarily one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you think that you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the inexpensive PSAPs; rather, set up a visit with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely measure your hearing loss and will ensure that you receive the ideal hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So despite the fact that the low-priced PSAPs are tempting, in this situation you should go with your better judgment and seek professional help. Your hearing is well worth the work.

Sources

  1. Federal Trade Commission: Appeals Court Affirms Ruling in FTCs Favor in Q-Ray Bracelet Case
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of “ionized” wrist bracelets on musculoskeletal pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
  3. Food and Drug Administration: Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: Regulatory Requirements for Hearing Aid Devices and Personal Sound Amplification Products