Do you remember the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetized bracelets that promised to provide you with instantaneous and significant pain relief from arthritis and other chronic disorders?

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

The problem had to do with making health claims that were not backed by any scientific evidence. In fact, powerful evidence existed to reveal that the magnetized 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

Okay, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t work (above the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling extraordinarily well. What gives?

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

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

If, for example, you happen to struggle with chronic arthritis in your knee, which decision sounds more enticing?

        a. Scheduling surgery for a total knee replacement

        b. Going to the mall to pick up a magnetic bracelet

Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a shot. You already want to trust 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 seeing other people wearing them.

But it is specifically this natural tendency, combined 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 suffering from hearing loss; which option sounds more attractive?

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

       b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier via the internet for 20 dollars

Much like the magnetic bracelet seems much more desirable than a trip to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier appears much more attractive than a trip 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 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 pfor that matterick up sound and make it louder. Viewed on that level, personal sound amplifiers work reasonably well — and for that matter, so does the act of cupping your hands behind your ears.

However 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 person do they work best?

These are exactly the questions that the FDA answered when it issued its guidance on the distinction 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 other hand, 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 clear, it’s easy for PSAP manufacturers and sellers to avoid the distinction by simply not pointing it out. For example, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This promise is obscure enough to skirt the issue entirely without having to define exactly what the catch phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As outlined by by the FDA, PSAPs are simplified amplification devices designed for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you desire to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or listening in to far off conversations, then a $20 PSAP is well suited for you.

If you have hearing loss, on the other hand, then you’ll require professionally programmed hearing aids. While more costly, hearing aids contain the power and features necessary 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 make it easy for 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 reduction and canceling functions, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for maximum 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 usually come with any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in several styles and are custom-molded for maximal 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 tempted by the low-priced PSAPs; rather, set up a visit with a hearing specialist. They will be able to accurately appraise your hearing loss and will ensure that you get the right hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So despite the fact that the low-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this circumstance you should listen to your better judgment and seek expert assistance. Your hearing is 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