Can’t hear over background noise?

Hearing in noise

Many people first notice hearing loss in noisy environments. Pubs, clubs, restaurant, cafés and lecture halls all offer significant challenges. This is often because they are large open areas, with multiple sound sources and have hard flat surfaces with little to break up bouncing sound waves. If you are finding you can’t hear when there is background noise, it may an indicator that your hearing has declined.

Why can’t I hear in a noisy environment?

When we consider the causes for people have trouble hearing in background noise, it comes down to two things: Hearing loss and auditory processing.

Hearing loss is the result of the hearing system not working as it should. There are many reasons why this happens (read about them here), but essentially it means that the sound reaching the ear is not being sent to the brain as a complete, high resolution, signal.

Auditory processing is what happens when that sound reaches the brain. It is the brain’s ability to separate speech from noise. This is a super complex process. The brain must pull out the desired speech signal from the undesired environment noise. It must be done quickly, because of the rate of speech, and is subject to many changes in volume, pitch, and sound direction. These changes must be calculated and processed by the brain immediately.

Auditory processing typically declines with age, however it can also be affected at any age due to damage to the auditory nerve from exposure to excessive noise, and certain chemicals and medicines that are toxic to hearing.

At A Better Ear we test for each of these problems separately in our full audiological assessment, which always includes a speech in noise test. If you find that background noise makes it difficult to hear, you might like to read about speech in noise testing, then contact us to book an appointment. Our number is at the bottom.

Unfortunately, it is possible for someone to suffer from both hearing loss and have poor auditory processing. When this is the case, hearing speech in noise can be really difficult.  

How to hear better in background noise

When hearing loss alone is the problem and auditory processing is healthy, hearing aids can provide significant benefits on their own. This is because the hearing aid amplifies the quieter speech sounds, and the brain can filter the desired speech from background noise. When the hearing aids are tuned perfectly to your prescription, it can mean the difference between engaging in the conversation and staring at the restaurant wall.

If your hearing is healthy, but you have poor auditory processing, an assisted listening device (or ALD) with or without auditory training exercises may provide the benefit you need.

When patients suffer from both hearing loss and poor auditory processing however, a combination of these solutions may be required.

When hearing aid manufacturers say their product offers improved hearing in background noise, they are basically talking about the devices sound processing ability. Significant research goes into the technology which recognises and clarifies speech sounds whilst attempting to supress background noise. Each millisecond a hearing aid may be performing thousands of calculations as it works out which part of the sound picked up by the microphone is speech, if should it be amplified, which part of it should be amplified, and how much it should be amplified. At the same time, its determining what the other sounds in your noisy environment are, and how to manage them. Its crazy sophisticated and the technology is mind-blowingly complicated. Consequently, it tends to be the more expensive devices that offer the aggressive and effective noise suppression appropriate for someone suffering from this problem. This is especially true if they wish to hear well in busy and noisy environments.

Get a better understanding of how hearing aids do this in our blog entitled how do hearing aids work?

If you have found yourself wondering “why do I have trouble hearing with background noise” we hope this article has helped answer some of your questions. If you would like to understand your personal hearing circumstances in better detail and receive advice about your options from an ethical and independent audiologist, please call us at A Better Ear on 3821 3744.  We can help you navigate back to enjoyable social gatherings in noisy environments.

Disclaimer: All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion. Eligibility for, and services available under the Hearing Services Program may change. Please check the HSP website for up-to-date details.

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