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Hearing Aids off the Drug Store Shelf?


Is it appropriate to consider hearing aids a stock item?

By Dr. Lisa D. Cahill, Ph.D., CCC-A

What do you think about purchasing a customized health care device, such as glasses or hearing aids, over the counter at a drug store? Reading glasses have been available for some time now, but it is becoming more common to find hearing related products available directly to the consumer, either online or lately, even in drugstores such as Walgreen's and CVS.  An example of such a product is the MSA 30X Sound Amplifier.  This rechargeable hearing enhancer is priced at $29.99 each. It comes with 6 different sized earbuds and a charging adapter. It ranks among Amazon.com Health and Personal Care products at #11,480. 

A review of this product reveals mixed critique.  Overall the product received an average 2.5 out of 5 stars based on user feedback.  Several 5 star reviews described the amplifier as being "helpful and useful, but not the best".  The more unfavorable reviews said the item is not helpful at all in the presence of any background noise.  One reviewer described it as a "total waste of money" since her husband experienced a great deal of squealing in the device, and said it sounded like constant "fans running". In fact, a large number of respondents described noisy feedback and a general lack of clarity for any useful sounds.  Overall, out of 183 customer reviews, only about 60 of them were relatively positive, and the largest number of respondents issued a one or two-star rating and negative review, nearly 100 people did not like the product at all.

This device is available on the market, but is not fully supported by the FDA, who advises anyone suspecting a hearing loss to seek a professional evaluation. The Walgreen's online advertisement for this device states that the MSA 30X Sound Amplifier is not a substitute for a hearing aid OR intended for hearing impaired people.  All advertisements state that the microprocessor technology improves amplification up to 30 times, but does not give any description or full specifications on the type of signal processing technology or output of the instrument. 

A truly customized hearing instrument, fitted by a qualified professional, contains highly specialized signal processors and filters that can be finely tuned and adjusted to your specific needs.  Complex algorithms for dealing with background noise and feedback are included. Fitting a hearing loss with such an over-the-counter product is similar to fitting a prosthetic limb with a two-by-four, or using the bottom of a soda bottle to make eyeglasses. While some individuals have experienced low level satisfaction with this product, it is unclear what impact use of such a crude piece of equipment would have on progression of the hearing loss, especially since a professional is not involved, it is possible that 30 times amplification could exceed dangerous loudness levels and cause further hearing damage to the user.  Please, be careful and consider visiting a hearing health professional rather than resorting to an over-the-counter hearing device!

References:

Amazon Customer Reviews (2014). Retrieved from: https://www.amazon.com/Global-TV-Concepts-S0711-Amplifier/product-reviews/B00CXTLRXK

Walgreen's Product Reviews (2014). Retrieved from: https://www.walgreens.com/store/c/msa-30x-sound-amplifier/ID=prod6188317-product