Consumer Reports: Hearing aid alternatives

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An estimated 360 million people around the world suffer from hearing loss, yet relatively few people seek treatment. (WLS)

An estimated 360 million people around the world suffer from hearing loss, yet relatively few people seek treatment. Prescription hearing aids can cost thousands and are rarely covered by insurance.

If you've been tempted to try one of those cheaper, sound amplifiers you find online or in drug stores, be aware: Consumer Reports warns that some, may do more harm than good.

Having trouble following conversations in a noisy restaurant? 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 are a fraction of the price of prescription hearing aids, which can cost thousands. Some amplifiers even cost less than $50. But Consumer Reports says be careful with these penny-saver models.

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

Two other, pricer, amplifiers, the $350 Sound World Solutions CS50+ and the $214 Etymotic Bean, did a little bit better, but it's complicated.
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 of loud sounds.

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

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

Which means, if you do decide to try an amplifier, be sure to check the return policy before you buy.

When it comes to these over-the-counter solutions, Consumer Reports said some amplifiers may be worth a try as a less expensive alternative to prescription hearing aids. But the best thing to do is see a hearing specialist first, to see if these devices are right for your needs.

All Consumer Reports material Copyright 2017 Consumer Reports, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit
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