Use caution with OTC hearing aid alternatives

Over-the-counter sound amplifiers promise to improve hearing, but some may do more harm than good. CR photo

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: Some, may do more harm than good.

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. Some amplifiers even cost less than $50. But Consumer Reports says be careful with these penny-saver models. The really cheap ones are not that effective at helping people with hearing loss.

More importantly, they could potentially damage your hearing further by over-amplifying loud sounds -- a siren, for instance.

Two pricier amplifiers, the $350 Sound World Solutions CS50-Plus, 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. Panelists who tried them said they were comfortable and easy to use.

But in real-life situations, reactions were mixed. That means, if you do decide to try an amplifier, be sure to check the return policy before you buy.

Consumer Reports says some amplifiers may be worth a try as an affordable alternative to prescription hearing aids, but it's best to see a licensed, reputable hearing specialist first, to make sure the devices are right for your needs.

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