(Last updated Oct 6, 2018)

Can’t Hear in Background Noise?

There are many signs of hearing loss. Some folks turn the TV up louder than they used to, some can’t hear on the phone, and some just can’t understand little children. The exact signs may vary from person to person, but in almost all cases, not being able to hear in background noise is a huge problem, if not the biggest problem. If you’re not reading this for yourself, but perhaps figuring out how you can help a friend or family member, you might want to try this hearing loss simulator, select the icon with a coffee cup, click “moderate”, and listen to how hard it is to hear that speech. That is what your loved one is dealing with- it’s tough. This problem is so pervasive that many people with normal hearing even complain of this, and part of that is the fact that our world is so noisy. In fact, some would say that the restaurant industry is going through a Great Noise Boom because more and more restaurants are getting louder then ever before.

If you are having trouble in a number of different environments where the background noise is (in your opinion) too loud, then a hearing test is in order. When you have a hearing loss, the majority of time it is the high-frequency consonant sounds which become very hard to hear- the “s”, “f”, “v” types of sounds- the sounds that give words their clarity. The reason for this is the background noise is often low frequency noise which quickly and easily drowns out those high frequency sounds that you probably already struggled with a bit, even before the noise was introduced. If you only have a hard time at a restaurant or two, you probably don’t need to “do” anything about it yet. Once you are struggling in several environments with background noise, it is likely that your hearing loss is affecting you in other environments as well, and not just those with a lot of noise.  If you can’t hear in restaurants and aren’t ready for hearing aids, there are a few free ways to remedy this problem:

  • Pick a table in the least noisy part of the restaurant (e.g., away from the kitchen, bar, wait service stations, etc.)
  • Read the menu beforehand online if possible so you might know how to respond to questions about your order
  • Choose a booth if possible or a chair with your back against the wall. The wall behind you will trap the sound and amplify it just a bit more.
  • Sit so that your guest’s face is being illuminated by the sunlight coming through a nearby window, as this will make it easier to read their lips.

If your problem is a bit more severe, you might consider hearing aids, since many of today’s devices have features which can make hearing in background noise much easier. Below is an overview of some of those features/accessories:

  • Directional microphones: Most of today’s small behind the ear hearing aids have (2) microphones. Having these 2 microphones allows the hearing aids to better distinguish which noises are coming from in front of you (to amplify), and which noises are from behind you (to supress).
  • Binaural synchronization: If you have a hard time in background noise, this is a great feature to have. This feature allows both hearing aids to communicate wirelessly with each other and adjust their settings to help you hear better in a wide range of different environments.
  • Accessory microphones (FM): Most hearing aids today are compatible with what is essentially stand-alone microphones which transmit sound directly in to your hearing aids. These are small accessories which can be purchased from your hearing provider. Imagine you’re at a noisy restaurant and can’t hear anything. You set one of these microphones in front of the speaker on the table, and it picks up their speech and sends it directly to your aids. This allows your hearing aids to get a much stronger signal of the person’s voice and then transmit it directly through your hearing aids. It’s as if you moved much closer to them to hear better. A good example of this is the Roger Pen by Phonak.

While these features will certainly help, it’s important to realize that even those who successfully wear hearing aids will still complain of not being able to hear very well in background noise. It’s a very tough problem to fix, and it’s probably the #1 problem that all manufacturers are racing to solve. Many are making strides. Technology is much better than it used to be and there’s no doubt you will have a great improvement with hearing aids, but it’s probably not going to be perfect…yet!

If you’d like a free phone consultation with a licensed hearing provider, please feel free to call us at 800-731-6794.

Jeff Hall Jeff Hall Jeff is a California licensed hearing aid dispenser and the President of ZipHearing- one of the largest discount hearing aid suppliers in the United States. Jeff lives in San Diego, CA with his wife and young daughter. You can learn more about hearing aids and watch Jeff on ZipHearing's Youtube channel.

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