Consumer Reports warns about cheap sound amplifiers

Tests find hearing aid substitutes get mixed results

SAN ANTONIO – Are you having trouble following conversations in a noisy restaurant? Are you straining to hear a co-worker in the cafeteria? Experts at Consumer Reports looked at some affordable, over-the-counter alternatives to expensive prescription hearing aids called sound amplifiers.

Most cost a fraction of the price of prescription hearing aids, which can cost thousands of dollars. Some amplifiers even cost less than $50. But Consumer Reports says to be careful with these penny-saver models. 

"The really cheap ones aren’t that effective at helping people with hearing loss, and more importantly, they could actually potentially damage people’s hearing further by over-amplifying loud sounds, kind of like a siren, for instance," said Julia Calderone, Consumer Reports health editor.

Two other pricier amplifiers — the $350 Sound World Solutions CS50+ and the $214 Etymotic Bean — did a little bit better in the tests. When tested in a lab by a professional hearing aid researcher, both showed promise for people with mild to moderate hearing loss while also protecting against over-amplification.

Plus, panelists who tried the pricier amplifiers 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 said some amplifiers may be worth a try as a less expensive alternative to prescription hearing aids, but advises that the best thing to do is to see a hearing specialist to see if the devices are right for your needs.

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