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

Well, you won’t see much of that promoting anymore; in 2008, the creators of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally obligated to repay customers a maximum of $87 million due to deceitful and fraudulent advertising.1

The issue had to do with making health claims that were not endorsed by any scientific facts. In fact, powerful research was there to show that the magnetized bracelets had NO effect on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the creator 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 strong proclivity to believe in the things that may appear to make our lives better and more convenient.

On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that wearing a $50 wristband will eliminate your pain and that you don’t have to trouble yourself with pricey medical and surgical treatments.

If, for example, you happen to suffer from chronic arthritis in your knee, which approach sounds more enticing?

a. Arranging surgery for a complete knee replacement

b. Traveling to the mall to purchase a magnetic bracelet

Your instinct is to give the bracelet a try. You already want to trust that the bracelet will get the job done, so now all you need is a little push from the advertisers and some social confirmation from seeing other people wearing them.

But it is exactly this natural instinct, combined 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 solution sounds more desirable?

a. Scheduling an appointment with a hearing practitioner and purchasing professionally programmed hearing aids

b. Purchasing an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier over the internet for 20 bucks

Just like the magnetized wristband seems much more appealing than a visit 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 magnetic 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 implying 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 are made with a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that pfor that matterick up 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.

But 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 addressed when it produced its guidance on the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

As reported 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.”

Although the distinction is transparent, it’s easy for PSAP producers and retailers to avoid the distinction by simply not bringing it up. For example, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This promise is obscure enough to avoid the issue completely without having to specify 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 basic amplification devices designed for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you desire to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or listening in to distant conversations, then a $20 PSAP is perfect for you.

If you have hearing loss, however, then you’ll need professionally programmed hearing aids. While more expensive, hearing aids provide the power and features needed to address hearing loss. Here are some of the reasons why hearing aids are superior to PSAPs:

  • Hearing aids amplify only the frequencies that you have difficulty hearing, while PSAPs amplify all sound indiscriminately. By amplifying all frequencies, PSAPs won’t permit 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 functions, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for optimal hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain multiple features and functions that block out background noise, permit phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not normally have any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in diverse styles and are custom-molded for optimum comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are usually 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-priced PSAPs; rather, make a consultation with a hearing specialist. They will be able to accurately quantify your hearing loss and will ensure that you receive the most suitable hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So despite the fact that the low-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this scenario you should listen to your better judgment and seek professional assistance. Your hearing is worth the effort.