What They Don’t Tell You About Cheap “Hearing Aids”

Smartphone leaving a low review because of cheap hearing aids.

The word “cheap” has two distinct meanings. Sometimes it means affordable – a smart buy for a thrifty person. But in other cases, it means low-quality. In this context buying something cheap becomes a not-so-smart decision, as in “you get what you pay for.”

Unfortunately, much of the time it’s hard to tell if something is a thrifty purchase or if it’s not even worth the little they are charging for it. This is not the case with hearing aids.

The government and hearing industry are working on ways to improve the affordability and accessibility of hearing aids, but until they come out with solutions you need to be careful to research what you’re buying.

With hearing aids, you really do get what you pay for. That’s not to say you have to buy top of the line. But if it’s got a price tag too good to be true you’ll want to take a close look at what you’re getting for the price.

Here’s what companies that make cheap hearing devices “conveniently” forget to tell you about their products.

1. They often just make sound louder

Cheap “hearing aids” often only do two things. They can make everything louder. Or they can turn the volume down. That means if you turn it up to hear the TV, then you’ll also hear the dishwasher, the fan in the other room, the dog barking outside, and your house shoes sliding across the floor.

If everything is louder, it completely defeats the purpose of having a hearing aid.

A quality, modern hearing aid doesn’t just make sound louder. It regulates sound, making what you want to hear clearly while leaving the rest in the background where it belongs. Real hearing aids are personalized to your precise hearing needs and mimic real hearing more accurately.

2. The FDA forbids them from calling them “hearing aids”

The Food & Drug Administration is tasked with keeping consumers safe from false medical product claims. They have written guidelines for those who sell cheap hearing devices and have strict rules as to what can be called hearing aids.

Sadly, there are many devices out there that market themselves as hearing aids when they are technically personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), named such because they can only amplify sound.

Most reputable companies comply. But you may find some uninformed salespeople or products on Amazon or eBay that mislead consumers into believing that these devices meet the definition of a hearing aid. Some even falsely advertise that they are FDA-approved.

3. They’re useless in a noisy room

Because cheap hearing aids can’t distinguish between background noise and what you want to hear, you’re probably better off without them in a restaurant, theater, grocery store, YMCA, or other places you like to be when out of the house.

4. They don’t account for most types of hearing loss

Most people don’t lose all of their hearing at once. They have difficulty with specific frequencies. This means that you might be able to perfectly hear a man with a low voice, but a woman or child’s voice may seem to break up, making it hard to understand.

If you get a cheap hearing device, then everything is just louder. If you’re unable to hear those frequencies then making it louder doesn’t help much. And if you turn it way up to try to hear your granddaughter playing on the floor, when your adult son starts speaking it will sound like a roar (not to mention potentially cause hearing loss if you expose your ears to loud noises for too long).

Real digital hearing aids can be programmed to compensate for your loss of certain frequencies by instantly changing the frequency you can’t hear to one that you can.

5. You’ll likely get a lot of feedback

Cheap hearing aids are generally not custom fit to your ears. Without that custom fit, you’ll create a feedback loop. The microphone picks up the sound from the speaker in your ear as it jiggles around. What does this sound like? An ear-shattering screech.

6. They likely won’t help you on the telephone

One of the things you typically lose when you go cheap is functionality. Most cheap hearing aids don’t have Bluetooth. Why is that important? It can’t sync to your phone. When you try to turn a cheap hearing aid up while on the phone, it picks up the sound of your ear, lips, clothes, and hair brushing against the phone. It’s even harder to hear the person on the other end.

Digital hearing aids, on the other hand, use telecoil or Bluetooth to wirelessly connect your hearing aid to the phone so that the voice of your daughter on the other end comes directly into your hearing aids.

7. They’re not designed for people with hearing loss

This may come as a surprise because so many people think otherwise. PSAPs were never designed for people with hearing loss. They were designed to help people who have relatively good hearing hear things a little louder.

If you have very mild hearing loss then cheap devices may help a little. But people who actually need hearing aids won’t find them very useful.

Cheap hearing aids are not a thrifty decision

Cheap hearing aids aren’t designed to treat hearing loss. In fact, PSAPs don’t technically qualify as hearing aids. You don’t have to get the most expensive hearing aid to hear better. But it’s important to understand what you’re buying and how that device will help you hear.

There are many ways to get hearing aids affordably. Insurance or other third parties sometimes cover them, but there are other options including more affordable brands, leasing, and financing options. If you have hearing loss, your first step should be to get evaluated. The best option for you depends on your level and type of hearing loss, and most hearing specialists can help you find an affordable pair.

Want more information?

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