Why Can’t I Hear in Noise?

By Rachel Ersof

We live in a noisy world. Department stores, restaurants, transportation locations, schools, and even our homes have a significant amount of noise that impairs speech perception, even for normal hearing people. The background noise essentially masks, or “covers up” some sounds that are in voices, making others seem as though they are mumbling. Hearing is not so difficult, but understanding is the challenge in background noise.

In addition to noise, reverberation also makes it difficult to understand speech. Reverberation refers to the persistence of sound in a room as it bounces off hard surfaces, such as walls, ceilings, and floors. All rooms have some degree of reverberation, but the more hard surfaces (think of a gymnasium), the more reverberation. Reverberation plus noise makes understanding speech extremely difficult for all people, especially for those with hearing loss, young children, bilingual people, people with developmental delays or learning disabilities, those with ADD/ADHD, or if you have a history of recurrent ear infections.

Luckily, websites like yelp, chowhound, and urbanspoon have begun rating locations on background noise, so you can prepare yourself for a noisy meal, or pick a quieter place for better conversation.

If you are concerned about your ability to hear in background noise, make an appointment with SWENT’s audiology department for a Speech in Noise test. We can use this test to measure your degree of hearing loss in noise, and help with treatment options if needed. Call us at 505-946-3947.