5 On Your Side

Cheap sound amplifiers could do more damage than good for those with hearing issues

Posted April 5

About 360 million people around the world suffer from some form of hearing loss, yet only a small number of them get any treatment.

Prescription hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars, and they are rarely covered by insurance.

While there are cheaper sound amplifiers available online and in some drug stores, Consumer Reports warns that they could do more harm than good.

"We found that actually the really cheap ones aren't that effective at helping people with hearing loss," Consumer Reports Health Editor Julia Calderone said. "More importantly, they could potentially damage people's hearing further by over-amplifying loud sounds such as a siren, for instance."

Two more expensive sound amplifiers do a better job helping those with hearing problems. Consumer Reports recommends the $350 Sound World Solutions (C-S-50 Plus) and the $214 Etymotic Bean.

Both were tested in labs by hearing aid researchers, and both showed promise for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. They also protected against over-amplification of loud sounds.

Consumer Reports panelists who tried them said they were comfortable and easy to use. But in real-life situations, reactions were mixed.

"They seemed to help with things like TV watching, but they weren't so great at deciphering conversations in a noisy environment," Calderone said.

Consumer Reports says some amplifiers are worth trying as a less expensive alternative to prescription hearing aids, but the best thing to do is see a hearing specialist who can help determine the right devices in individual cases.

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