By Susan L Fenrich, BC-HIS*
*Board Certified In Hearing Instrument Specialists
This is a question that I get asked a lot. Lately, I have had several people that have come to me frustrated with hearing in noise. When they first come to see me, to give them realistic expectations, I tell them these facts:
- When one has a hearing loss there is damage somewhere in the hearing system so less than perfect signals reach the brain. For instance, with a high frequency hearing loss—one can’t hear “s”, “f”, “th”, and “sh”. Which leaves holes in the hearing, causing one to hear but not understand. Over time of being deprived of those signals the brain can forget them.
- The ear sends sound to the brain for processing. Unfortunately, if the brain can no longer process the sound being sent, one may not be able to understand the sound coming through. Speech sounds may not be recognized since: they have gone unheard for a long time, the Auditory Processing Center may no longer function properly, or somewhere else in the whole hearing system could be simply sending inaccurate signals to be interpreted by the brain.
- Hearing aids send the sound to the ears and in turn to the brain for interpretation. If the person’s hearing system, no longer functions properly the brain could have great difficulty understanding speech in quiet and even worse in noise. We can find out how well the brain interprets speech through performing speech tests in both quiet and in noise. A Speech Discrimination Test helps determine how well a person can understand speech at an amplified level in quiet. The Speech in Noise test helps determine how well one can understand at an amplified level in a noisy environment, like a restaurant. The words are presented with speech babble behind them. During both tests the level of amplification is set at the patients comfortable listening level and the words presented are then repeated. When speech scores are 70% and above, the person usually understands speech well with hearing aid. Speech in Noise scores are generally lower than those in quiet. Which is normal but unfortunately for some the scores are very poor and better technology along with some additional accessories may be necessary for successful hearing in noise.
When a person has difficulty hearing in noise there are several things that might help:
- Most hearing aids can have multiple environmental programs. A restaurant or comfort noise program may be able to be turned on in your hearing aid. This program utilizes a directional microphone that picks up sound from the front while in turn causes the sounds from the back and sides to be quieter. This can be accessed by a push button, or a remote control. If possible, the directional microphone setting should be set to narrow so that it can be most effective to hear the person you are looking at.
- The noise reduction feature of the hearing aids should be set to maximum, so speech sounds can come through the noise better.
- The use of a mini microphone can be used with certain hearing aids to send the speakers voice directly into the hearing aids and in front of the noise. This has been proven successful for patients who understand less than 40% of the words presented in the Speech in Noise. When out to lunch and using a mini-mic, my patients have been able to hear and understand the conversation.
When someone comes to see me for a hearing evaluation, I give them realistic expectations as to what a hearing aid might be able to do for them given their hearing loss and lifestyle. Together we decide what the best solution is for one’s hearing situation. The more sophisticated the hearing technology, the better able it is to filter out background noise and pull the speech cues in. If you already wear hearing aids, I will see if I can do anything to improve your listening situations with them first. Call Welsch Hearing Aid Company at 1-800-924-2101 to schedule your FREE hearing test and take advantage of our Better Hearing Month Specials!