Hearing Aids vs OTC Amplification Products: Performance Assessment

Devices perform almost as well and are much cheaper, but they aren't regulated, researcher notes
Devices perform almost as well and are much cheaper, but they aren't regulated, researcher notes

HealthDay News — Several over-the-counter personal sound amplification products fare as well as more expensive hearing aids in helping people pick up more words in conversation, according to a research letter published in the July 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Nicholas Reed, an audiologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, and colleagues recruited 42 patients at a university audiology clinic who had mild-to-moderate hearing loss. Two-thirds were women, and their average age was 72. In a sound booth, the participants listened to sentences with "speech babble noise" in the background. The participants tried to understand what was said without any hearing assistance; while using a hearing aid (costing $1,910); and while using personal sound amplification products bought online and at a pharmacy (one was $30, and the others cost between $270 and $350).

The researchers measured the average accuracy — the percentage of the time that the participants understood the sentences. It was 76.5% without a hearing aid, 88.4% with the hearing aid, and 81.4 to 87.4% with four of the amplification devices (Sound World Solutions CS50+, Soundhawk, Etymotic Bean, and Tweak Focus). 

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"The results suggest that the devices are technologically and objectively capable of improving speech understanding in persons with hearing loss," Reed told HealthDay. A fifth amplification device, the $30 MSA 30X Sound Amplifier, scored the worst, with an average accuracy level of 65.3%, the researchers reported. Reed said the device caused distortion. Reed added that the findings suggest that both hearing aids and the amplification devices should be regulated and available over the counter. In that case, he said, "the FDA would set technical standards for all of these devices."

One author disclosed being a consultant to Cochlear and receiving speaker honoraria from Amplifon.

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