How do Complex Environments Impact our Hearing?

“How is your hearing?” Even though this sounds like a simple question, it may not be a simple answer…do you find your answer changes based on where you are? Us too! It’s common for people to say they hear pretty well in certain places, but struggle to hear in others. 

In reality, the answer to the question “how is your hearing?”changes based on where you (and your ears) are! Are you in your home? Are you at a busy and bustling coffee shop? A restaurant with soft music playing? A grocery store? Walking on a busy street? All environments like the ones listed, have many changing variables that impact how easy or difficult it might be to hear what someone is saying. Rarely are we communicating in quiet, one-on-one situations, such as your audiologist’s office. The real world is a loud and busy place! There could be music playing, low lighting, and more than one voice talking at once. These factors all contribute to what we call a complex listening environment and can create a difficult space for communication. 

The main four factors that lead to a complex listening environment are: 

  • Background noise (music, machine noise, other voices)
    • A person’s voice (especially the consonants of speech which provide clarity) can be drowned out by competing sounds in the same room.
  • Lack of visual cues (not being able to see the face of the person you are speaking with)
    • We often use visual cues, such as speech reading (or lip reading) to help us when it is hard to hear…we often do this without realizing it and people with normal hearing do it too!
  • Distance from a sound source (being far away from the person you are speaking with)
    • The power in someone’s voice lowers as it travels across a room…picture how clear someone sounds when they are 1 meter away from you compared to down the hall or in another room.
  • Reverberant space (like a kitchen or hockey arena)
    • The power in someone’s voice can also fade when it bounces off smooth, hard surfaces in a space before reaching your ears.

When someone has hearing loss, hearing in any of these four situations can be extra difficult! This goes for our current patients who already have hearing aids, and our future patients who have never had a hearing test. It can often be confusing when deciding if you need to come to an audiologist for a hearing test or not. You might think back to a group dinner where you had a lot of difficulty hearing, but also remember a phone call or one -on-one visit that you could follow along just fine. The truth is, if you find yourself struggling in even one scenario, it is best to come for a hearing test,  establish a baseline, and learn about your hearing. Audiologists are full of information and tools to help minimize communication breakdowns, which is a fancy way of saying we can help you hear better! These tools can be as high tech as the latest hearing aids, and as low tech as communication strategies. When in doubt, fill up your toolkit to help yourself hear better.

When you come to your first appointment at The Hearing Room, before your hearing test you will complete a case history. The audiologist you see will ask you about your hearing experience in many different scenarios, as well as how you think your hearing is overall. This is a very important conversation for us to have with you, as we want to understand how easy or difficult (or somewhere in the middle) communicating is for you in your day to day life. 

Do you find yourself struggling to hear in complex listening environments or are interested in communication strategies to help you hear? Call The Hearing Room to learn more!
Oshawa: 905-571-1999
North Oshawa: 905-725-1999
Stouffville:  905-640-8999
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