The number one complaint hearing aid wearers have today is that their aids don’t work well in noisy situations. In past articles, we explained why it is so frustrating to understand in background noise and, how the anatomy of one’s hearing system determines how well one will hear in noise. Let’s discuss the part that technology plays in helping you to hear better in noise.

With the exception of advanced digital technology, most other hearing aids turn down loud sounds but do not really enhance speech when in a noisy environment. Even the most sophisticated hearing aid circuits are still electronic devices that decide what is noise and what is speech. In these circuits, steady state sounds such as an air conditioner running or traffic noise are interpreted as noise, and are then turned down. Temporal sounds such as a person talking or the sound of a plate being placed on the table are interpreted as speech, and are turned up.

Ironically, some of the most irritating background noise can be the babbling sounds of other people talking. Think about the last time you were in a noisy restaurant. Other people talking probably interfered with the conversation at your table.

Although some hearing aids will turn down these sounds in a restaurant, they will not necessarily make the person you want to listen to easier to hear. This is where directional microphones come in. Directional microphones actually turn down sounds in back of you making the speech in front of you easier to understand. Here’s how they work.

In general, two microphones are built into the hearing device. One microphone is placed towards the back and the second microphone is positioned towards the front of the hearing aid. In quieter situations, both microphones are activated so that you can hear all around you, in front, in back and at the sides. But let’s say you go to a noisy restaurant and know that you will have difficulty following the conversation at your table.

You request a table where you can place your back to the background noise. This is extremely important. The people you want to hear should be facing the noise, ideally with their backs towards a wall. With the flip of a switch, you turn off the back microphone which quiets down the sounds coming from the back. Only the front microphone is on, enhancing what’s in front of you – the conversation you want to follow.

People have been amazed at how much this small enhancement helps them enjoy conversations in difficult listening situations. They actually feel part of the conversation instead of sitting there like a bump on a log. Of course, every person’s hearing is unique and the benefits of this technology vary by degree of loss, and by individual.

Directional microphones were originally built into the most advanced digital circuits giving you the benefits of both digital and directional technology. However, the good news is that directional microphones can also be built into less sophisticated circuits. For those people unable to purchase top-of-the-line hearing instruments, you can still benefit from directional microphones. With a flip of a switch, you can turn down the sounds in back of you!

Directional microphones have improved! “Automatic adaptive” directional microphone systems have taken directionality to a whole new level. Even when the source of noise is coming from different directions, this automatic microphone system detects the source and reduces the noise from that direction so that speech is at its best. When the noise moves or changes direction this superior microphone system follows it.

Imagine having a conversation with your neighbor when someone starts up a lawnmower. Then, several cars drive by. With regular hearing aids, the noises would drown out the conversation. However, this automatic, adaptive system tracks the traffic noise and lawnmower, automatically adjusting to give you the best speech signal possible.

So if you’ve been putting off getting help because of so many people’s bad experiences with hearing aids, it’s time to schedule an appointment for a hearing test and consultation. Be sure to get a Speech-in-Noise test and find out if directional microphones could make communication easier for you and your loved ones.