Hearing loss is a big deal. As one of the five senses, second perhaps only to sight, hearing loss can lead to poorer health and hospitalization, cognitive decline and dementia, and a higher risk of falls in the elderly. For younger folks, hearing loss can make socialization and certain work-related activities more difficult. When my husband, John, lost most of his hearing in one ear due to an ear fungus infection and a subsequent eardrum perforation, I started thinking about hearing aids. For 8 months to a year after his eardrum repair surgery, John’s hearing remained less than perfect and he considered getting a hearing aid, but the cost was prohibitive. So I started researching hearing aid alternatives that were more affordable but that still offered good results. Below are some of the interesting options that I found:
Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAP’s): Cheap Hearing Aid Alternatives for the Common Man
One of the first, and most compelling options that I found were Personal Sound Amplification Products or P.S.A.P.’s (also known by some as “hearables”). These are unregulated by the FDA (which could be a good thing considering some of harmful awful things that the FDA “regulates”) and you don’t need to visit an audiologist to get one. Manufacturers of these products, by law, cannot label PSAP’s as products that will help with hearing loss; most people with hearing loss never even realize these products are available. But the good news is that the lack of FDA regulation may push the innovation threshold higher. Some of these PSAP products will test your hearing as well as diminish hearing loss. And they’re cheap hearing aid alternatives at $70 to $700 on average for a pair . Check out some of these products that have a good reputation for enhancing people’s hearing. When you’re purchasing cheap hearing aids or alternatives to hearing aids, it’s buyer beware:
- Soundhawk – This PSAP operates using a smartphone. According to some users, it performed almost as well as an expensive hearing aid that you’d get at the audiologist’s office, but it only costs $399.
- CS50+ – Some PSAP’s call themselves “hearing amplifiers” and the CS50+ by Soundworld is no exception. It looks like a hybrid between a hearing aid and a Bluetooth device. It comes with a customizer app for use on Android, iPhone, Mac, or PC and you can set the CS50+ using environmental profile settings to get the best sound in different locations. It costs $350 per ear. An added bonus is that you can amplify your phone calls, streaming music, or your social surroundings, as needed.
- Bean T-Coil – “The Bean”, created by Etymotic, is a hearing amplifier that functions as a do-it-yourself hearing aid solution that’s ready to use out-of-the-box. It looks like a bean, thus the name and it fits inconspicuously in your ear. The creators call it a hearing loss solution much like reading glasses for better eyesight in terms of its accessibility for the average consumer. Each one costs about $350  .
Hearing Aid Alternatives: Smartphone Apps for Better Hearing
Some people have started patching together their own hearing aid alternatives using electronics and audio equipment they can buy anywhere. Or they use an iPhone which has excellent audio. By downloading certain smartphone apps developed specifically for better hearing, they can sometimes achieve better sound than what’s possible with an expensive hearing aid. Below are some of the apps that people are using to hear better:
- Jacoti ListenApp – Using a plug-in direction microphone and high-quality ear buds, people can often hear well even in crowded places when hearing aids tend to perform poorly .
- BioAid – This free hearing app was designed to work with the most common types of hearing loss. It uses your iPhone as a hearing aid that processes and amplifies sounds from the environment and then delivers it into the headphones in real time. The user selects a profile that best matches their type of hearing loss and then they choose one of 4 programming options to fine tune the setting. It can only be used with Apple products  .
- soundAMP R – This app isn’t free, but it’s cheap at $4.99 and it’s the highest selling hearing app in the iTunes App Store. Users can adjust the volume level and reduce background noise. It also has an “Instant Replay” feature that makes it possible for users to replay the last 30 seconds of a conversation. When I looked for this product at iTunes, it said it wasn’t available in the U.S. so I’m not sure what the story is on that .
Keep your expectations realistic if you’re working with a hearing app on your smartphone. Obviously none of the app solutions will fix major hearing loss, but if you can’t afford expensive hearing aids, an app might be worth a try.
The technology used to create most of the hearing aids on the market today is a little behind-the-times, but the FDA certainly isn’t going to support the little guy (PSAP manufacturers) until the Big Boys can figure out how to milk consumers for every dime they’ve got. So if you’re shopping for cheap hearing aid alternatives, PSAP’s or “hearables” might be worth considering, despite their lack of support from the FDA. But you have to decide on the best course of action for yourself because I’m not a doctor or an expert on hearing loss. If you’ve got one of these hearables or an app that works for you, I’d love to hear about your experiences though!
 Span, P. (2016). No Hearing Aid? Some Gizmos Offer Alternative to ‘Speak Up!’ Available online: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/19/health/hearing-aid-alternatives.html?_r=0 January 11, 2017.
 Herbert, D. G. (2015). Bluetooth Earpieces Do Battle with the $3000 Hearing Aid. Available online: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-05/hearing-aid-alternatives-get-cheaper-more-powerful January 11, 2017.
 Vliet, D. V. (2015). PSAP’s Are Cheaper So Why Should I Buy Hearing Aids? Available online: http://www.starkey.com/blog/2015/05/PSAPs-Are-Cheaper-So-Why-Should-I-Buy-Hearing-Aids January 11, 2017.
 Appalachian Audiology (n.d.). Apps that Enable Smartphones to Perform Like Generic Hearing Aids. Available online: http://www.appalachianaudiology.com/apps-that-enable-smartphones-to-perform-like-hearing-aids.php January 11, 2017.
 HealthLink.org (n.d.). Useful apps for hearing loss. Available online: https://www.hearinglink.org/living/loops-equipment/useful-apps-for-hearing-loss/ January 11, 2017.