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

Well, you won’t see much of that marketing anymore; in 2008, the makers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally mandated to refund customers a maximum of $87 million thanks to deceptive and fraudulent advertising.1

The issue had to do with making health claims that were not backed by any scientific evidence. For that matter, powerful research was there to show that the magnetized bracelets had NO influence 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 (outside of the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling astonishingly well. What gives?

Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the easy response is that we have a powerful tendency to believe in the things that may appear to make our lives better and quite a bit easier.

On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that wearing a $50 bracelet will wipe out your pain and that you don’t have to bother with expensive medical and surgical treatments.

If, for instance, you happen to suffer from chronic arthritis in your knee, which option seems more attractive?

        a. Booking surgery for a complete knee replacement

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

Your instinct is to give the bracelet a shot. You already wish to believe that the bracelet will get the job done, so now all you need is a little push from the marketers and some social confirmation from having seen other people using them.

But it is precisely this natural instinct, 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 having difficulties from hearing loss; which option sounds more attractive?

       a. Booking a consultation with a hearing practitioner and getting professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Ordering an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the web for 20 dollars

Much like the magnetic wristband seems much more desirable than a visit to the doctor or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems to be much more appealing than a trip to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

But unfortunately, 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 impression, I’m not suggesting 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 consist of a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that pfor that matterick up sound and make it louder. Reviewed on that level, personal sound amplifiers work fine — 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 work?
  2. For which type of individual do they function best?

These are precisely the questions that the FDA answered when it posted 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

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.”

Even though the difference 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 statement is obscure enough to skirt the issue entirely without having to explain 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 basic amplification devices intended for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you want to hear better while hunting, bird watching, or listening in to far off conversations, then a $20 PSAP is ideal for you.

If you suffer from hearing loss, however, then you’ll require professionally programmed hearing aids. While more costly, hearing aids provide the power and features needed to correct 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 enable you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
  • Hearing aids have built in noise minimization 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 numerous features that block out background noise, permit phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not normally possess any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in diverse styles and are custom-molded for maximum comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are as a rule 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, schedule a visit with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely measure your hearing loss and will make sure that you get the most effective hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So although the low-cost PSAPs are enticing, in this scenario you should listen to your better judgment and seek professional assistance. Your hearing is well worth the effort.

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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