Hearing Loss and Background Noise

The biggest challenge many of our patients face is hearing loss and background noise.

Historically, researchers and audiologists have utilized tests that identify thresholds, or the softest sounds a person can perceive when listening in quiet. While these measurements do provide pertinent information on a patient’s ability to hear, they do not provide a functional measure of how an individual performs in a realistic setting. In the presence of background noise, some listeners have what is considered a mild auditory impairment, whereas others face a more severe impairment. Audiologists have classified this type of auditory dysfunction as a Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) loss. The SNR loss indicates how much louder a speech signal needs to be over the background noise in order for the listener to understand speech. The interesting concept behind SNR loss is that two people with the same exact hearing loss, the same exact ability to understand speech in quiet, can have completely different scores when tested in the presence of noise.

The ability to understand speech in the presence of background noise cannot be assessed by the typical measurements made during a routine hearing evaluation. Rather, a test called the Quick Speech-in-Noise or Quick SIN provides a more accurate picture of how patients perform in a realistic listening environment. The hearing health care professionals at Hearing Rehab Center have implemented the Quick SIN into their test battery to gain the most accurate picture of each patient’s hearing loss. During the Quick SIN, a patient will hear a series of sentences that they repeat back to the audiologist. As each sentence is presented, background noise begins to increase. The louder the background noise gets, the more the patient’s auditory system is challenged. Once the test is complete, the audiologist calculates how much the patient’s ability to understand speech is affected by the presence of background noise. The results determine the patient’s SNR loss.

The results of the Quick SIN, along with the results of the traditional hearing test, provide a functional assessment of how a patient performs in a real-life setting. It also provides the hearing health care professional the opportunity to recommend the most appropriate solution for that patient’s specific hearing loss. Individuals with a significant SNR loss will benefit greatly from current hearing aid technology. Many of today’s hearing aids include features that improve listening performance in the presence of background noise. These features include:

  • Automatic Noise Management — This feature helps hearing aids automatically identify noise. Once the noise is identified, the hearing aids automatically reduce amplification of that noise.
  • Binaural Processing — This feature allows the hearing aids to wirelessly communicate with each other. When they recognize that background noise is present, the two hearing aids automatically change the microphones into a directional mode. This directional mode helps the hearing aid microphones amplify only the speech signal while decreasing the noise.
  • Connectivity — This feature helps hearing aids wirelessly connect to other accessories that can be used to help amplify the speech signal and reduce background noise. These accessories may include: a very small and concealable microphone that can be placed in the middle of a conference table during meetings or worn by a specific speaker; a streamer used to stream the signal from your telephone directly into your hearing aids; an adapter for the television that sends the signal directly into your hearing aids; or the use of a telecoil system that can amplify the signal of a speaker’s voice during a religious service.

We are proud to be able to provide many solutions to our patients despite the various degrees of individuals’ hearing loss. Now, with the use of the Quick SIN, our hearing health care providers are able to further customize treatment plans based on each patient’s hearing loss and ability to understand speech in the presence of background noise.

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