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Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetized bracelets that promised to produce immediate and significant pain relief from arthritis and other chronic ailments?

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

The issue had to do with making health claims that were not supported by any scientific evidence. For that matter, strong evidence existed to suggest that the magnetized bracelets had NO effect 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

Okay, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t function (besides the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling astonishingly well. What gives?

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

On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that putting on a $50 bracelet will eradicate your pain and that you don’t have to trouble yourself with high priced medical and surgical treatments.

If, for example, you happen to suffer the pain of chronic arthritis in your knee, which decision sounds more appealing?

        a. Arranging surgery for a complete knee replacement

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

Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a shot. You already want to believe that the bracelet will deliver the results, so now all you need is a little push from the advertisers and some social confirmation from witnessing other people donning them.

But it is exactly this natural instinct, together with the tendency to seek out confirming evidence, that will get you into the most trouble.

If it sounds too good to be true…

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

       a. Booking an appointment with a hearing practitioner and getting professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier online for 20 bucks

Just like the magnetized wristband seems much more desirable than a trip to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier appears much more appealing than a trip to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

Nonetheless, as with the magnetized bracelets, personal sound amplifiers won’t cure anything, either.

The difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers

Before you get the wrong impression, 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 contain a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that receive sound and make it louder. Considered 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 issued its recommendations on the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

According to the FDA, hearing aids are classified 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 other hand, personal sound amplifiers are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment.”

Despite the fact that the distinction is clear, it’s simple for PSAP producers and retailers to avoid the distinction by simply not bringing it up. For instance, on a PSAP package, you may find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This promise is unclear enough to avoid the issue completely without having to specify exactly what the expression “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As stated by the FDA, PSAPs are straightforward amplification devices designed for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you wish to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or listening in to remote conversations, then a $20 PSAP is ideally suited for you.

If you have hearing loss, however, then you’ll need to have professionally programmed hearing aids. Whereas more expensive, hearing aids provide the power and features required to correct hearing loss. Listed below 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 permit 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 functions, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for maximum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain several features and functions that block out background noise, provide for phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not typically possess any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in several styles and are custom-molded for maximum comfort and cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are as a rule one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you believe you have hearing loss, don’t be tempted by the low-priced PSAPs; instead, arrange for an appointment with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely quantify 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-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this circumstance you should go with your better judgment and seek expert help. Your hearing is worth the hassle.

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
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