A study led by an instructor of audiology in the Department of Otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Nicolas S. Reed, Au.D., reveals that over-the-counter hearing aids may help people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
The findings reveal that over-the-counter devices or personal sound amplifications products (PSAPs) are similar to prescription hearing aids, but more accessible and affordable. A previous study revealed that PSAPs could potentially help an estimated 48 million Americans who have hearing loss.
“Right now, we know that people wait on average of eight years before adopting a hearing aid and the majority of people never adopt one at all,” said Reed. “Instead of waiting those eight years, it would be nice if people started … [by] using these over-the-counter devices.”
Do PSAPs Really Work?
For the new study, researchers chose five PSAPs – Soundhawk, Sound World Solutions C250+, Etymotic BEAN, MSA 30X Sound Amplifier and Tweak Focus – and compared them to a traditional hearing aid – Oticon Nera 2. For whatever reason, the Soundhawk is no longer available on the market.
The forty-two participants who volunteered for the study ranged from 60 to 85 years of age and suffered with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. Each participant was fitted with the PSAPs, which was performed by an audiologist, who also made necessary adjustments. The research team asked the participants to repeat specific words that were fed through a speaker in an imitated noisy environment. This was done first without a device, followed by each selected PSAP and then the Oticon Nera 2 hearing aid.
The findings revealed that the Oticon Nera 2, which carries a price tag of $1,910, was more effective. It was capable of improving the participant’s ability to hear in a noisy environment by about 12 percent.
Even more impressively, three of the over-the-counter PSAPs did not lag far behind. The Sound World Solutions CS50+, which retails at $349.00, improved the hearing by 11 percent. The Soundhawk, retailing at $349.99, improved hearing by nearly 10 percent and the Etymotic BEAN at $299.99 by nearly 8 percent.
The researchers were astonished that the MSA 30X, which retails at $29.99, actually worsened the participants’ hearing by nearly 11 percent. Researchers described the amplification as “listening on a really bad cell phone signal.”
Director of graduate studies in hearing and speech sciences at Vanderbilt University Center, Todd Ricketts, ph.D., said the new finings are important and promising. Since an audiologist fitted and adjusted the PSAPs and the environment was controlled, it is possible that they may not work as well in the real world, he says.
“If someone picks it up and buys it themselves, will they get some of those same benefits?” Rickets said. “That’s an important next question.”
The study was published in the Journal of the American Association on July 4, 2017.