Do you remember the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetized bracelets that promised to offer instant and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic disorders?

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

The issue had to do with making health claims that were not supported by any scientific facts. In fact, strong evidence existed to show 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 function (above the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling amazingly well. What gives?

Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the easy reply is that we have a strong tendency to believe in the things that seem to make our lives better and more convenient.

On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that wearing a $50 bracelet will take away your pain and that you don’t have to bother with costly medical and surgical procedures.

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

        a. Arranging surgery for a complete knee replacement

        b. Taking a trip to the mall to pick up a magnetic bracelet

Your instinct is to give the bracelet a shot. You already desire to trust that the bracelet will work, 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 precisely this natural tendency, 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 attractive?

       a. Arranging a consultation with a hearing practitioner and obtaining professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Purchasing an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the web for 20 bucks

Just like the magnetized wristband seems much more appealing than a visit to the doctor or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems to be much more desirable than a trip 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 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 work. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers contain a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that detect sound and make it louder. Regarded on that level, personal sound amplifiers work reasonably well — and for that matter, so does 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 function?
  2. For which type of individual do they work best?

These are precisely the questions that the FDA answered when it created its advice on the distinction 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.”

Despite the fact that the difference is clear, it’s simple for PSAP producers and sellers to circumvent the distinction by simply not discussing it. For instance, on a PSAP package, you may find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This claim is vague enough to avoid the issue entirely without having to specify exactly what the phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As stated by the FDA, PSAPs are simple amplification devices intended for those with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you are interested to hear better while 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 to have professionally programmed hearing aids. Whereas more costly, hearing aids contain 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 reduction and canceling features, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be perfected for optimal hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain various features that block out background noise, permit phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not normally include any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in various styles and are custom-molded for maximal comfort and cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are normally one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you think you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the inexpensive PSAPs; rather, make a consultation with a hearing specialist. They will be able to accurately measure your hearing loss and will ensure that you get the correct hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So even though the low-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this instance you should listen to your better judgment and seek expert assistance. 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
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