Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetized bracelets that promised to provide you with instantaneous and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic conditions?

Well, you won’t see much of that advertising anymore; in 2008, the manufacturers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally obligated to repay customers a maximum of $87 million because of deceptive and fraudulent advertising.1

The issue had to do with rendering health claims that were not supported by any scientific confirmation. In fact, strong research was there to suggest that the magnetized bracelets had NO impact on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the producer but did wonders to win the court case for the Federal Trade Commission.2

The wishful thinking fallacy

Fine, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (outside of the placebo effect), yet they sold astonishingly well. What gives?

Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the simple answer is that we have a strong proclivity to believe in the things that may appear to make our lives better and quite a bit easier.

On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that sporting a $50 wristband will eradicate your pain and that you don’t have to bother with high priced medical and surgical treatments.

If, for example, you happen to suffer from chronic arthritis in your knee, which decision seems more appealing?

        a. Scheduling surgery for a complete knee replacement

        b. Traveling to the mall to pick up a magnetic bracelet

Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a try. You already wish to believe that the bracelet will deliver the results, so now all you need is a little push from the advertisers and some social confirmation from witnessing other people wearing them.

But it is specifically this natural desire, together with the tendency to seek out confirming evidence, that will get you into the most trouble.

If it sounds too good to be true…

Bearing in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re having difficulties from hearing loss; which approach sounds more attractive?

       a. Scheduling an appointment with a hearing practitioner and obtaining professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Purchasing an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the web for 20 bucks

Just like the magnetic bracelet seems much more appealing than a trip to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems to be much more appealing than a trip to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

However, as with the magnetic bracelets, personal sound amplifiers won’t cure anything, either.

The difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers

Before you get the wrong idea, I’m not implying that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t function.

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do work. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers consist of a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that detect sound and make it louder. Viewed on that level, personal sound amplifiers work reasonably well — and for that matter, the same is true for the act of cupping your hands behind your ears.

But when you ask if PSAPs work, you’re asking the wrong question. The questions you should be asking are:

  1. How well do they work?
  2. For which type of people do they function best?

These are precisely the questions that the FDA addressed when it produced its guidelines on the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

As outlined by the FDA, hearing aids are classified as “any wearable instrument or device designed for, offered for the purpose of, or represented as aiding persons with or compensating for, impaired hearing.” (21 CFR 801.420)3

Quite the opposite, personal sound amplifiers are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment.”

Even though the difference is transparent, it’s simple for PSAP manufacturers and sellers to circumvent the distinction by simply not bringing it up. For instance, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This assertion is vague enough to skirt the issue entirely without having to describe exactly what the catch phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As stated by the FDA, PSAPs are simple amplification devices intended for individuals with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you want to hear better while hunting, bird watching, or listening in to distant conversations, then a $20 PSAP is ideally suited for you.

If you have hearing loss, however, then you’ll need professionally programmed hearing aids. While more costly, hearing aids possess the power and features necessary to correct hearing loss. The following are a few of the reasons why hearing aids are superior to PSAPs:

  • Hearing aids amplify only the frequencies that you have trouble hearing, while PSAPs amplify all sound indiscriminately. By amplifying all frequencies, PSAPs won’t allow you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
  • Hearing aids come with integrated noise reduction and canceling functions, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be perfected for optimal hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain numerous features and functions that minimize background noise, provide for phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not typically have any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in various styles and are custom-molded for maximal comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are normally one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you believe you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the inexpensive PSAPs; rather, book a consultation with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely measure your hearing loss and will make sure that you get the correct hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So although the low-priced PSAPs are tempting, in this scenario you should listen to your better judgment and seek professional assistance. Your hearing is worth the work.


  1. Federal Trade Commission: Appeals Court Affirms Ruling in FTCs Favor in Q-Ray Bracelet Case
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of “ionized” wrist bracelets on musculoskeletal pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
  3. Food and Drug Administration: Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: Regulatory Requirements for Hearing Aid Devices and Personal Sound Amplification Products
The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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