Professional Hearing Services

Why Can't You Hear People Very Well with Mild Background Noise?

a man straining to hear properly

Anyone who has ever tried to listen to a friend or a colleague speaking in a noisy environment will be familiar with the challenges posed by crowded areas. For sure, the noise of a crowd is distracting and can prevent you from giving your friend the full attention that they deserve – but it is more than that. There are times when, even if you are paying rapt attention to another person, you simply cannot hear them well enough to understand what they are saying. 

Now, let’s be clear about what we mean by a noisy environment. This isn’t just referring to a nightclub with loud music, a concert hall or a busy street in which someone is operating a pneumatic drill. Sometimes, it can be problematic to hear another person speaking even in a moderately well-occupied canteen, a busy call center or even in your own home with the TV or radio on. When you cannot hear another person speaking even in mild background noise, what does that mean for you?

For some people, being unable to understand what another person is saying amid mild background noise is the first sign that they are experiencing hearing loss. If you are struggling to hear and understand conversation in an environment where you ordinarily would not be experiencing this difficulty, then you might be best advised to consider an appointment with an audiologist, even if only for precautionary purposes. Their advice could make a huge difference to your quality of life.

What is the reason for struggling to hear amid background noise?

When someone is speaking, the pitch of their voice will rise and fall to form different vowel and consonant sounds. When there is no background noise at all, most people will find it simple to distinguish those sounds and potentially understand every single word they hear another person say. Amid mild background noise, the rise and fall in intonation that helps distinguish spoken words can be harder to pick out. Still, for some of us, it will simply be a case of picking out the words that we can and putting the rest together from context.

For others, the problem comes when they are not able to hear most of the words that are spoken, or enough to establish a context. This may be a sign that our ears are not picking up enough of the markers in speech that distinguish it from background noise. If you tend to hear well in quiet environments but find that you struggle in a space that is a little noisier, then you may be experiencing the first stages of hearing loss. This possibility is especially acute if you would normally be able to hear speech clearly with the same level of noise. If you find that you are often asking friends to repeat what they are saying; or that you are often tired or experience headaches after conversations in noisy areas, then it’s possible that you have lost some range of hearing. 

What should you do if you find it hard to hear in a noisy environment?

If you are experiencing compromised hearing in mildly noisy environments, then it is worth making an appointment to have your hearing tested by an audiologist. They will run a series of tests designed to ascertain the range of hearing that you have and diagnose hearing loss if any exists. If it is the case that you have lost some range of hearing, they will also be able to recommend solutions that allow you to deal with hearing loss in a practical way.

Most modern hearing aids use advanced technology to differentiate between speech – which, as we have discussed, is extremely varied in pitch and loudness – and noise, which tends to be more constant and uniform. This technology separates the speech that you need and want to hear from your friend or colleague, from the background noise that you don’t need to hear – thus allowing you once again to hear other people even in noisy environments. This can also mean an end to the headaches and cognitive exhaustion you associate with busy areas.

If you have found that you are increasingly battling to follow a conversation in a moderately noisy environment, then there is something you can do about it. By making an appointment with an experienced audiologist, you can take the first steps to remedying this issue and gaining a new lease of life. Give Ashland Audiology a call at 715-682-9311 and discuss your options with a member of staff.