Background Noise and Hearing Aids

Since the first hearing aids were invented, it seems being able to hear in background noise has been a problem. In fact, being able to hear in background noise is a major concern for many hearing aid wearers even now. Why?

Imagine being at a busy restaurant. People are talking at tables all around you, music might be playing in the background, and dishes and silverware are being picked up from tables and clanking together. For individuals with normal hearing, they can focus on where each sound is coming from, filtering out the background noise to determine what’s most important for them to hear.

But let’s say that same person has hearing loss and is in the same busy restaurant. Hearing loss makes it tough to focus on the important sounds you need to hear, like the conversations at the dinner table. For many with hearing loss, it’s tough to hear the nuances in their partner’s conversation, resulting in missing bits and pieces of the discussion and trying to fill in the blanks.

Early hearing aids helped amplify all the sounds around you, but that also made it difficult to focus on speech and the important sounds necessary to hear well and participate in conversations.

Fortunately, today’s prescription hearing aids have evolved to become tiny, powerful computer processors with advanced settings and features that can help filter background noise, whether the wearer is in a busy restaurant, at a party, or at a large family gathering.

Here are some hearing aid features that can help you hear better in background noise.

  • Digital signal processing, or DSP, is a complex process designed to help hearing aid wearers filter out background noise. An audiologist can be certain the individual’s hearing prescription and lifestyle needs are programmed into the hearing aids, maximizing DSP and helping the wearer hear better.
  • Directional microphones can help shift the sound coming into the hearing aids so that the wearer can focus on sounds coming from a specific direction, say in front of you if you’re dining out with a partner, or from behind if you’re driving a car with the grandkids in the back seat.
  • Artificial intelligence, or AI, is technology that is able to “learn” from experience and can adjust the wearer’s hearing aids automatically to complex listening situations, like restaurants or other settings with loud background noise. 

Many of today’s prescription hearing aids are equipped with these advanced features, making hearing in background noise less troublesome, but if the hearing aid wearer still needs additional hearing help, there are other options.

Assistive listening devices include devices that stream sound directly to the hearing aids via Bluetooth or FM technology. These accessories can help when watching TV, talking on the phone, or listening to music. And special remote microphones may be especially helpful in busy restaurants or in meetings by streaming the sound directly to the wearer’s hearing aids.

Other assistive listening devices include personal amplifiers, FM systems, infrared systems and induction loop systems. Each of these has a specific function and even if you already wear hearing aids, they may be able to help give your hearing the added boost you need.

In addition, if you know you have problems hearing in restaurants or other settings where background noise is a problem, try these tips:

  • Choose a quiet restaurant and dine before the dinner rush.
  • Look for restaurants with carpets and curtains, which can help absorb sound. Tables that are spaced several feet apart also make it easier to hear.
  • Sit across from your conversation partner so you can see their lips and facial expressions. This adds context to the conversation and helps the listener better interpret what’s being said.
  • Look for a spot with good lighting. This also helps you see your dinner partners’ facial expressions and lips.
  • Try to avoid being seated near the kitchen where dishes are typically clanking together, wait staff may gather and doors may be opening and closing. The noise can be distracting.

If background noise is a problem for you, schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist for a diagnostic hearing evaluation, and learn more about the wide range of options available to help you hear your best.