Some over-the-counter hearing devices perform well in study

By Greg Hamilton • Published: December 18th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Congress is considering legislation that would allow certain over-the-counter hearing amplification devices to be sold as hearing aids, and a new study lends support to the effort by showing some of the devices work nearly as well as expensive hearing aids.

The devices, known as personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs, fit into the ear and amplify sounds for people who are not hearing impaired. Hearing aids are intended to compensate for hearing loss and can only be purchased through a licensed specialist. They also cost more, around $4,500 for devices for both ears. PSAPs cost a few hundred dollars or less.

Researchers at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine tested five popular PSAPs against a hearing aid that is commonly dispensed in a university audiology clinic. Their study group consisted of men and women between ages 60 and 85 who had mild hearing loss, no prior use of amplification devices and no cognitive impairment.

Participants repeated sentences in the presence of background noise unaided, with a hearing aid, and with five different PSAPs. In results published in JAMA, the hearing aid and four of the PSAPs improved speech understanding. The hearing aid did best, improving understanding to a level of 88 percent accuracy. But three of the PSAPs were within five percentage points.

The researchers said their experiment showed there is a wide range of amplification devices on the market, but some are nearly as good as the hearing aids. They supported the bipartisan effort in Congress to allow certain of the devices to be marketed as hearing aids, subject to federal regulation, as a lower-cost way to get more assistance to those who need it.