Thursday, January 24, 2008

Beyond Hearing Aids – Coping with Background Noise

There is often a misunderstanding to what hearing aids can provide. Many people who walk into a hearing clinic for the first time believe that a hearing aid will solve all their hearing problems. They may expect to understand all sorts of conversations in different situations, such as talking at a party or understanding a lecture. Hearing aids can never restore normal hearing; they can only help to make it easier to hear.

Beyond hearing aids, we need to understand what factors affect communication and how best to adjust the environment around us to make listening easier.

With any degree of hearing loss, even the mildest of losses, speech understanding quickly disappears with the presence of background noise. Background noises range from obvious things, like traffic, machinery, or loud music, to more subtle noises, like running water, a whirring fan, or air conditioning. All of these will have an effect on understanding speech. With normal hearing, one can fine-tune the sound within the ear to pick out speech. With hearing loss, that fine-tuning ability is lost. Unfortunately, hearing aids cannot fine-tune the sound and pick out speech. It tends to make everything louder – speech and noise.

A person with a hearing loss and the people communicating with him or her can try to control or change this listening environment. It’s important that everyone in the conversation try to help and reduce the amount of background noise. If a window is open and the sound of traffic is distracting, then close the window. If you are sitting below an air conditioning vent and the constant whir is masking a speaker’s voice, then turn off the air conditioning or move to a spot away from the sound. If you’re at a party and you cannot hear people, try to move the conversation to a quieter area away from people and music. You may even have to step outside of the room to have a decent conversation.

Hearing aids may not be able to solve all the problems of understanding speech in noise, but a person can make small changes to the environment around them that can make a difference. So next time you are in a difficult environment, think about how you can improve the soundscape to make things easier for you and everyone else to hear.


Mike said...

I am so glad that there is this kind of post that really explains everything about hearing loss. I learned a lot of important things.

hearingaustintx said...
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