Managing Hearing Aids in Noisy Environments

Modern hearing aids come equipped with an array of features designed to address the very problem of noise management.

Managing Hearing Aids in Noisy Environments

Modern hearing aids come equipped with an array of features designed to address the very problem of noise management. Directional microphones, for instance, are one of the most beneficial advances, providing significant improvements to signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), especially in low reverberation environments. With proper noise management techniques, hearing aid users can improve speech intelligibility and comfort, even in challenging listening situations, such as wind or crowded places.

We also recognize the need for personalized fittings that consider the three auditory domains related to hearing in noise: basic auditory function represented by an audiogram, speech discrimination ability in quiet, and sound perception in various noise environments. By tailoring hearing aids to address these specific areas, we better equip users to navigate their acoustic worlds with confidence and ease.

Understanding Hearing Aids and Noise

Types of Hearing Aids

Hearing aids are available in several styles, each designed to accommodate different needs and preferences. The primary types include:

  • Behind-the-Ear (BTE): Includes a plastic case worn behind the ear, connected to an earmold that delivers sound to the ear.
  • In-the-Ear (ITE): Fits entirely inside the outer ear and is used for mild to severe hearing loss.
  • In-the-Canal (ITC) and Completely-in-Canal (CIC): These are smaller, less visible and fit partly or completely into the ear canal.

All hearing aids are equipped with a microphone to pick up sound, an amplifier to increase the sound's strength, a speaker that sends the amplified sounds into your ear, and a battery to power the device.

Noise Classification and Effects

Noise can be classified by its source and characteristics. We typically encounter:

  • Ambient noise: Background sounds present in all environments.
  • Transient noise: Sudden, short-term noises like car horns or slamming doors.
  • Continuous noise: Steady sounds such as HVAC systems or traffic.

Hearing aids use noise management technologies to minimize the impact of noise. These include:

  • Directional microphones: Capture sounds coming from specific directions, usually in front of the user.
  • Noise reduction algorithms: Digital processing that specifically targets noise signals and reduces their level.
  • Telecoils (T-coils): Specialized technology to pick up sound signals through electromagnetic fields, often found in public sound systems.

The effectiveness of these features varies based on the environment and the design of the hearing aid. Our capability to understand speech amidst noise, also known as the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), is a critical factor in the successful use of hearing aids.

Strategic Hearing Aid Management

In addressing the complexity of noisy environments, we focus on two primary aspects: Volume Control Techniques and Program and Environment Settings, to ensure an optimal hearing experience for hearing aid users.

Volume Control Techniques

We employ volume control methods to maintain a comfortable hearing level and improve speech understanding in noise. An effective technique is to adjust the gain for different frequencies. This can be done by:

  • Increasing gain for frequencies where speech is prominent.
  • Reducing gain for frequencies that predominantly pick up noise.

Another technique involves the automatic volume control, which allows the hearing aid to adapt to changing sound levels without manual adjustments.

Program and Environment Settings

We optimize hearing aid performance through program and environment settings tailored to the user's needs. Modern devices come with preset listening programs designed for specific environments such as:

  • Quiet settings: Minimize processing for a natural sound.
  • Noise settings: Activate noise reduction features to suppress background noise.

Users can also benefit from environmental classification systems that detect and classify the sound environment, automatically switching to the suited program for enhanced speech clarity.

Enhancing Hearing Aid Use Through Accessories

In addressing hearing challenges, we recognize that accessories developed for hearing aids can significantly enhance the user experience in various environments. Notably, assistive listening devices and noise reduction ear tips play a pivotal role in improving audibility and clarity.

Assistive Listening Devices

  • TV Streamers: We utilize these devices to directly stream audio from TVs into the hearing aid, ensuring clear sound without interference from ambient noise.
  • Remote Microphones: Ideal for one-on-one conversations, especially in noisy environments, as they can be worn by a speaker and transmit their voice directly to the hearing aid.

Noise Reduction Ear Tips

  • Materials: Silicone or foam ear tips are typically used for their noise-blocking properties. These materials can reduce the level of background noise entering the ear.
  • Design: The ear tips are shaped to fit snugly in the ear canal, forming a seal that helps prevent outside noise from interfering with the hearing aid's function.

Practical Tips for Everyday Situations

Communicating in Crowded Spaces

When we're in crowded environments, such as restaurants or social gatherings, background noise can interfere with our hearing aid's effectiveness. We can utilize technologies like telecoils (T-coils) to our advantage. T-coils are particularly helpful, as they can directly connect to loop systems installed in many public spaces, bypassing ambient noise and delivering sound straight to the hearing aids. Other tips:

  • Adjust Hearing Aid Settings: Enable the noise reduction feature or switch to a program designed for crowds.
  • Directional Microphones: Use them to focus on the person speaking to you.
  • Positioning: Face the speaker and position ourselves with our back to the noise source when possible.

Handling Wind and Traffic Noise

Wind and traffic can create challenging listening environments for us, especially outdoors. These tips can help reduce the impact of such noises:

  • Wind Noise Reduction: Activate the wind noise reduction feature if our hearing aids include this option. It can lower the amplification of wind frequencies.
  • Strategic Positioning: When possible, stand with the wind at our back or shield our hearing aids using our hand or a hat.
  • Use a Protective Cover: Specialized hearing aid covers are available that can reduce the impact of wind noise.

Visit La Cañada Hearing Aids & Audiology

In consideration of the complexities of hearing in noisy settings, it's invaluable to consult an experienced audiologist like Dr. Ivory. Fine-tuning your hearing aids for various acoustic environments can substantially improve your daily interactions and quality of life. By visiting La Cañada Hearing Aids & Audiology, you take an active step towards optimal hearing health, armed with the knowledge and technology to navigate every auditory challenge.

Written by
Reviewed by
Dr. Kevin H. Ivory
Audiologist & University Instructor
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Dr. Kevin Ivory, Au.D., CCC-A received his Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He then went on to earn his Doctor of Audiology degree from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, one of the top 10 audiology residential programs in the country.

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