Do you remember the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic wristbands that promised to supply immediate and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic disorders?

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

The problem had to do with rendering health claims that were not supported by any scientific studies. On the contrary, strong research existed to suggest that the magnetic wristbands 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 work (outside of the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling astonishingly well. What gives?

Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the simple response is that we have a powerful proclivity to believe in the things that appear to make our lives better and more convenient.

On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that sporting a $50 wristband will get rid of your pain and that you don’t have to trouble yourself with high price medical and surgical treatments.

If, for instance, you happen to suffer the pain of chronic arthritis in your knee, which choice seems more desirable?

a. Scheduling surgery for a total knee replacement

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

Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a chance. You already want to believe 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 wearing them.

But it is precisely this natural desire, 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 struggling from hearing loss; which approach sounds more desirable?

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

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

Just as the magnetized wristband seems much more attractive than a trip to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems to be much more attractive than a visit to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

Nonetheless, 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 suggesting that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t deliver results.

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do give good results. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers consist of a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that capture sound and make it louder. Considered 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.

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 people do they work best?

These are exactly the questions that the FDA answered when it produced its advice on the distinction between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

As stated by 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 contrary, 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 easy for PSAP producers and sellers to avoid the distinction by simply not bringing it up. For example, on a PSAP package, you may find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This assertion is obscure enough to avoid the issue completely without having to define exactly what the slogan “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As stated by the FDA, PSAPs are straightforward amplification devices created for individuals with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you desire to hear better while hunting, bird watching, or tuning in to distant conversations, then a $20 PSAP is ideal for you.

If you have hearing loss, however, then you’ll need professionally programmed hearing aids. Although more costly, hearing aids possess the power and features needed to correct hearing loss. The following 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 enable you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
  • Hearing aids have integrated noise reduction and canceling functions, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be perfected for optimal hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain numerous features and functions that minimize background noise, provide for 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 cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are in general one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you suspect you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the inexpensive PSAPs; rather, book an appointment with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely appraise your hearing loss and will ensure that you get the ideal hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So although the low-priced PSAPs are tempting, in this scenario you should listen to your better judgment and seek professional help. 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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