Background Noise Reduction in Hearing Aids

Modern hearing aid technology is revolutionizing the way we manage background noise.

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Picture this: you are sitting in a busy restaurant, trying to catch up on life with your friend, but the clatter of dishes, overlapping conversations, and the hum of background music make it nearly impossible to follow along. Sound familiar? For individuals with hearing loss, this is a common experience, as distinguishing speech from background noise becomes increasingly challenging. 

But modern hearing aid technology is revolutionizing the way we manage background noise, transforming the listening experience for people with hearing loss in noisy environments. In this piece, we’re going to explore the advancements in hearing aids that reduce background noise, as well as tips for managing it in your everyday life.

Background Noise: A Common Problem

Background noise presents a challenge for everyone, even those with normal hearing. When noise levels increase, it becomes more difficult to focus on specific conversations, making comprehension of speech increasingly difficult. This is particularly true for people with hearing loss, as the ability to distinguish between speech sounds becomes even more difficult, leading to frustration and sometimes leading the sufferer to avoid social situations altogether.

Latest Hearing Aid Features which Combat Noise

  1. Noise Reduction Algorithms

Some of today's hearing aids come equipped with advanced noise reduction algorithms to help users hear better in noisy environments. These algorithms work by differentiating speech sounds from background noise and selectively amplifying speech while reducing noise levels. 

Take the Oticon More hearing aid. By utilizing a neural network that analyzes the surrounding "sound scene," the More identifies and combines simple sounds and patterns to understand the overall context. This enables the device to create a harmonized and authentic sound experience. 

  1. Directional Microphones and Program Adjustments

Another advancement in hearing aid technology is the implementation of directional microphones, which allow devices to focus only in a specific direction, usually in front of the user. Some hearing aids even offer adjustable directional settings, giving users greater control over their listening experience in noisy environments. By focusing on the person speaking directly to you, these settings help to reduce the amplification of environmental noise.

  1. Using Assistive Devices to Improve Signal-to-Noise Ratios

Remote microphones and other assistive devices provide additional support for hearing aid users in noisy situations. These devices work by capturing speech signals directly and sending them to the hearing aid, bypassing background noise and allowing for clearer, uninterrupted conversation. Brands such as Phonak offer the Roger range of microphones that provide distinct improvements in understanding speech against background noise, making a significant difference in challenging listening environments like classrooms or conferences. 

Hearing loops, also known as audio induction loops or assistive listening systems are another assistive device for use in noisy environments. A hearing loop system consists of a loop of wire that is installed around a room or a specific area. An audio signal is then sent through the loop, creating a magnetic field. This magnetic field is picked up by a telecoil (T-coil) or hearing aid equipped with a T-coil, allowing the user to receive the sound directly into their hearing aid. This direct transmission helps overcome the challenges posed by background noise and reverberation, resulting in improved speech intelligibility.

Other Ways You Can Manage Background Noise

Although modern hearing aids offer an impressive array of features to reduce background noise, it's important to remember that no device can completely eliminate noise entirely. However, there are several additional strategies for managing background noise in your everyday life. Here are a few tips to help you hear better in noisy environments:

  1. Ask people around you to speak slowly and clearly, and request they refrain from shouting.
  2. Repeat back and clarify what you have understood in the conversation.
  3. Position yourself in a location that allows good visibility of the speaker's face.
  4. Opt for quiet venues with features like carpets, plants, and spaced-out tables that help absorb noise.
  5. Utilize tools like the SoundPrint app to find quiet venues in your local area.
  6. Engage in auditory training exercises to help improve your auditory processing and working memory skills.

Can You Train Your Brain to Filter out Noise?

In addition to maximizing the benefits of your hearing aids, research suggests that engaging in listening exercises can help improve speech understanding in noisy environments. Programs like clEAR, designed by scientists at Washington University in St. Louis, target auditory and cognitive skills through a series of brain training exercises. 

There’s some evidence that this could work. A study by Harvard Medical School researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear found that playing a brain-training audio game can significantly improve speech understanding for older adults with hearing challenges, even in noisy environments. In a study involving 24 older adults with mild to severe hearing loss, participants played a specially designed game for 3.5 hours per week over eight weeks. The group that played the game aimed at improving conversation skills showed a 25% increase in correctly identifying words in the presence of background noise compared to the control group that played a different game. This improvement was three times greater than the benefit provided by hearing aids alone. 

Talk to us at Applied Hearing Solutions to find the right hearing aid features and settings to help you hear better in noise. Through experimentation and personalized adjustments, we can help you maximize the potential of your hearing aids and confidently navigate even the most challenging listening environments. 

Written by
Reviewed by
Dr. Cliff Olson
Founder & Audiologist
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Dr. Cliff Olson is an Audiologist and founder of Applied Hearing Solutions in Phoenix, Arizona. A former Marine Corps Scout Sniper, he left the military to earn his Audiology doctoral degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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