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When Hearing Aids Aren’t Enough: Background Noise

Of course, hearing aids are helpful and many times a successful treatment of hearing loss. Hearing technology provides access to sounds that people with hearing loss would not otherwise hear.   Listening in background noise is optimized when hearing aids are appropriately fit; however, they do have limits.Situations with excessive background noise and/or poor acoustic environments such as restaurants, parties, or large family gatherings are examples of the limitations.

Anytime someone is trying to listen to another talker in the midst of noise, the brain is working overtime to filter out the extraneous information (background noise) from the important information (talker).

Think of the talker as the signal.  

When you are in a really loud environment where the noise is louder than the talker, you’re experiencing a poor signal-to-noise ratio.  With normal hearing, your brain is able to fairly successfully compensate and filter out noise.

Yet, the signal-to-noise ratio can become so unfavorable that understanding the talker is out of the question.  With hearing loss, operating in an environment with background noise is more challenging.

For those with sensorineural hearing loss, the lack of hair cells in the cochlea causes all the sounds to fuse together. In other words, it is harder to differentiate between sounds.

Although wearing hearing aids helps increase the volume of all sounds and attempts to reduce background noise, the frequencies that make-up the background noise crossover with the frequencies of speech. Therefore, all of the background noise can’t be filtered out.

So what does one do?  The key is to increase the signal to noise ratio.

The talker attempts to do this by raising their voice in noisy settings.  But this may not be enough. There are assistive listening devices such as FM systems and remote microphones that have the same effect.

Another challenge for understanding speech is a poor acoustic environment such as a place of worship, gymnasium or courthouse. Sounds in these places reverberate or echo because there is nothing to absorb the sound.

To continue reading the next chapter of “When Hearing Aids Aren’t Enough” – Assistive listening Devices & Improving Understanding in Poor Acoustic Environments, click here.

For more information and an evaluation of your hearing loss, difficulty hearing in background noise and treatment options,, please contact Arizona Hearing Center by phone at 602.814.0452, or by email

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  • bob hamelin

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