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

an older fellow with moderate hearing loss in both ears

If you're struggling to hear people even when there is only mild background noise, then it's probably time for a hearing test. There are a couple of things that this could be, so it's essential to see an audiologist to determine precisely what it is and why you can't hear so well.

One of the first noticeable signs of hearing loss that people report is difficulty hearing in noisy places. This is because your ears have to work hard to filter out background noise, and this can be a somewhat complicated process that requires input from both ears. But the ears of people with hearing loss work differently in background noise than the ears of people who don't have hearing loss. It's possible that you could have Auditory processing disorder (APD), which is a hearing problem where the brain is unable to process sounds in the usual way and can affect people of all ages but often starts in childhood.

What causes auditory processing disorder?

There seem to be many possible causes of APD; in some cases, for children, it is related to them having glue ear when they were younger, others it is caused by a faulty gene. In both adults and children, APD has also been linked with brain damage from a head injury, stroke, brain tumor or meningitis. It can also be caused by a traumatic birth where there has been a significant lack of oxygen to the brain, severe jaundice and brain hemorrhages.

Some cases of ADP in adults have also been linked to age-related changes in the brain's ability to process sounds and progressive conditions that affect the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis. However, there is still ongoing research as the causes are not fully understood yet.

If you are struggling to hear people very well with mild background noise, then this could be a sign of high-frequency hearing loss. Other signs of this could be that you notice problems understanding speech even in a relatively quiet environment. Then when background noise is present, or several people are talking at once, it can become nearly impossible to follow a conversation.

There are many signs of hearing loss, and if you notice that your family members, friends and work colleagues are getting frustrated and feel you aren't listening to them, or have you been accused of having a selective hearing? Perhaps you think that others are always mumbling? 

It's essential that if you have noticed any of these things that you go to see an audiologist as untreated hearing loss can take a toll on relationships, careers and your daily life. If any of these things apply to you should most definitely see an audiologist.

However, routine hearing tests aren't very effective at diagnosing APD because they are usually carried out in a quiet room without distractions. Regular tests don't test the ability to hear in a typical day-to-day listening environment, so more sophisticated tests are needed to test the ability to hear with different levels of background noise.

There is also something that can help you, which is called auditory training. This involves using special activities to help train your brain to analyze sound better, and you can do this on your own, with the help of an audiologist, or by using a computer program. Auditory training involves tasks like identifying sounds and guessing where they're coming from or trying to focus on specific sounds when there's some slight background noise. These tasks can be adapted for people of all different ages. 

It also may help you if you tell other people about your hearing problems and let them know what they can do to help you hear more clearly. Just tell your friends and family to get your attention and face you before they talk, speak clearly and at an average pace, emphasize their speech to highlight the critical points of the message and repeat or rephrase the message if necessary.

Whether it's APD or high-frequency hearing loss you are experiencing, either way, a hearing aid may help as it can amplify the high pitches that you have been missing without amplifying the low-pitched sounds. Once you start to wear your hearing aids, you will notice improvement with understanding speech and you may even notice that you hear sounds that you had totally forgotten about.

Learn more about Arkansas Professional Hearing Care by calling 501-614-7904!