How Hearing aids can help you hear better in background noise

Once your hearing levels are compromised, and you’re not hearing at your optimal best, communication in background noise becomes noticeably more challenging. Why does this happen? Can’t we just make sounds louder to be able to hear over all the noise? If only this were so.

If you think about it, even with normal hearing, listening in noisy environments isn’t easy. There’s so many competing signals for our auditory system to manage and make sense of. Once our hearing levels are reduced, it adds a whole other level of complexity for our ears to pick up the sounds and our brain to interpret the meaning. There are a number of contributing factors for this.

When you have a hearing loss in the inner ear or cochlea, generally the outer hair cells (hearing nerves) are more disrupted. The outer hair cells are important for hearing well in background noise, so if these are damaged, the ability to hear successfully in noisy situations is compromised. Often people lose their hearing more in the high frequencies, than in the low pitch range. A number of high frequency speech sounds need a lot of energy to produce and are known as voiceless fricatives (such as: ‘s’, ‘th’ & ‘f’). These sounds often occur at the beginnings and ends of words and due to their lack of power, get swallowed up by the background noise. This means you only hear part of the word. 

Also, if we consider the sounds that make up background noise – generally low frequency – this makes it even trickier with good low frequency hearing. You’ll hear the background noise better than the conversation! Your brain has to work overtime to sort out the noise from the nuances of speech.

Hearing aids are a way to assist your brain in coping with background noise, but it takes time and practice. Once your hearing levels have dropped, your brain’s ability to understand the sounds it hears, drops as well. Research has shown that over time, with hearing aids, the brain can ‘remember’ how to process the sounds, even in background noise. Yes, you can train your brain back to hearing well. And the technology in hearing aids these days certainly adds to this ability.

Directional microphones, noise suppression technology, 360⁰ scanning and faster processing of the listening environment all adds up to better speech understanding in noise. Each hearing aid company will use varying technologies to achieve this aim – some better than others. The more features to assist with hearing in background noise, the higher the technology level and price of the hearing aid. If you need to hear well in complex and noisy situations, consider all the speech processing and noise suppression features available in the hearing aids you’re considering. Give your brain the best chance to process sounds and give you the clarity and understanding to hear well in all environments.

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