Understanding speech in noise is the most common complaint of those who are experiencing hearing loss. Although they might still be able to hear relatively well in quiet settings, it becomes more challenging to follow conversations in noisy environments. It is not the volume of the speech, but rather the clarity thereof.

“Hearing and listening are two different things. When you are aware of or perceive speech sound, it is called hearing. Listening, on the other hand, is paying attention to and processing what is being said,” says Hanneke Rabé, clinical audiologist with the Ear Institute in Queenswood, Pretoria.

“For people to understand speech in noise – such as in restaurants or at social events – it is essential that the sound coming from the primary ‘source’ is significantly louder than the sounds in the background.”

This is called signal-to-noise ratio. “In essence, it means that the speech that we want to listen to must be louder than the sounds coming from the background. When this is the case, the auditory system and the brain can process the sound waves correctly and we hear what is being said.”

Modern hearing aid technology has made it possible to increase the signal-to-noise ratio. “It is incredible that the technology has advanced to such an extent that the majority of people can now be assisted to improve their hearing as opposed to living with the consequences of not asking for help. In fact, research shows that people wait on average between seven and ten years before they seek help.” 

Consequences of not attending to a hearing loss
According to Rabé, a hearing loss has a profound effect on our relationships. It does not only affect the person who is experiencing the hearing loss, but also those who are trying to connect with them. “Spouses, family members, and friends of people who are experiencing a hearing loss get frustrated. This, in turn, could lead to social isolation, increased anxiety, anger, listening fatigue, and even depression in those with hearing loss.

“We lose our connection with family, friends, and life,” says Rabé. “As we are socially driven beings, we need this connection because it improves our self-esteem, teaches us empathy, and is good for our wellbeing.

“The earlier one does something about the hearing loss the better. But we do understand that it is hard to take the first step. Our advice to someone with a hearing loss is to take a loved one into your confidence and ask them to accompany you when going for a hearing test. Moral support and understanding go a long way in overcoming this challenge,” Rabé concludes.

Submitted by Ear Institute