All Ears: Why do I have a hard time hearing in noise?

Got a question about hearing loss or hearing aids? One of our on-staff Starkey audiologists is all ears. 

One of the first signs of hearing loss is when someone, who typically hears well in quiet environments, struggles to hear in noise. Why is that? 

Even for someone with normal hearing, noisy settings can be tricky to navigate when trying to make out speech. That’s because we all tend to use contextual cues — or clues from words we do make out — to fill in the gaps we miss or don’t make out due to background noise. 

Background noise tends to mask the finer sounds of speech — like higher-pitched consonants — which makes it difficult for even those with normal hearing thresholds to hear in crowded, noisy environments. 

Add to that, the variable of hearing loss, and these situations can be incredibly strenuous, as the brain is not always able to separate speech from the background noise and fill in the blanks of those missed sounds. Even when it can, the cognitive fatigue that we undergo in these situations can be exhausting. 

Why is it so hard to hear in noise? 

How do hearing aids work in noise?

Hearing aids are incredible technology that use some key differences between speech and noise to separate the two types of auditory stimulus (sounds) from one another. 

Noise tends to be more steady-state, meaning it does not have much fluctuation in its frequencies (pitch) or amplitude (loudness). Speech, however, tends to be highly variable in both frequency and amplitude. 

Hearing aids work to analyze and distinguish all sounds coming into the microphones, then treat noise and speech differently so that the target signal — speech — is amplified and prioritized, while the background noise is compressed not enhanced. 

You can experience this difference for yourself by clicking here to find a hearing professional in your area, and asking for a 30-day trial of Starkey hearing aids. 

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By Carolyn Pinkerton, Au.D.

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