OTC devices may be an alternative for hearing aids
Personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) cost less but can be as effective as hearing aids for individuals who have mild to moderate hearing loss, according to a small study.
“PSAPs are less-expensive, over-the-counter devices not specifically labelled for hearing loss treatment, but some are technologically comparable with hearing aids and may be appropriate for mild to moderate hearing loss,” said the researchers.
For the study, a convenience sample of 42 adults (mean age 71.6 years, 67 percent women) with mild to moderate hearing loss (20-55 dB HL) were assessed on functional hearing by speech understanding via the AZBio sentence-in-noise task. In the task, participants were required to repeat sentences they heard over background noise under seven settings: unaided, with a hearing aid, and using each of five different PSAPs. To control for order bias, devices and sentence lists were randomly ordered. [JAMA 2017;318:89-90]
When unaided, the mean speech understanding accuracy was 76.5 percent, which was improved to 88.4 percent with the hearing aid (translating to an absolute improvement of 11.9 percentage points, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 9.8–14.0).
Four of the five PSAPs tested also improved hearing compared with the unaided condition, with three of the PSAPs showing improvement to within five percentage points of the hearing aid: Sound World Solutions CS50+ (accuracy, 87.4 percent, difference, 11.0 percentage points), Soundhawk (accuracy, 86.7 percent, difference, 10.2 percentage points), Etymotic BEAN (accuracy, 84.1 percent, difference, 7.7 percentage points).
The fourth PSAP which also improved hearing showed a smaller gain in accuracy (81.4 percent), translating to an improvement of 4.9 percentage points over unaided condition.
On the contrary, one of the five PSAPs made speech understanding worse than hearing unaided (accuracy, 65.3 percent, difference, -11.2 percentage points).
“Select PSAPs were associated with improvements in speech understanding for individuals with hearing loss that were similar to results obtained with a hearing aid,” according to the researchers.
“[Our r]esults lend support to current national initiatives … requesting that the US Food and Drug Administration create a new regulatory classification for hearing devices meeting appropriate specifications to be available over the counter,” they added.
Due to the small sample size of the study, sampling by convenience, and limited sample of available hearing devices, the researchers could not ascertain if the findings apply to other devices or when device were self-programmed by user.