Things people don’t understand about hearing loss: number one….NOISE

Boom 2One of the things people don’t understand about hearing loss is noise.  They think people who can’t hear live in a quiet world.  There’s a logic to that and indeed, before the invention of hearing aids, they’d have been right.  Without the things that sit on our ears the world IS a very quiet place.

But with hearing aids……WOAH……

Adjusted to ramp up the sounds of speech a hearing aid will, unfortunately, ramp up everything else within the frequency ranges concerned. 

The other day my friend Fiona was telling me about a recent evening when some friends had come for supper.  One of the visitors had an especially quiet, difficult-to-understand voice and Fiona was straining to hear.  We’ve all been there.  You’re concentrating like mad, probably leaning slightly forward to get as near as you can without invading someone’s personal space, eyes fixed on their lips………when Fiona’s husband started opening a bag of frozen peas just behind her back.

“Oh no……” I shouted.  “Oh no”.  Fiona started miming the actions of her husband having a life and death struggle with a packet of frozen vegetables (why do they make them so hard to open………) Soon we were collapsed in helpless laughter, interspersed with (on my part) attempts to be a duly commiserative and supportive friend.  It was a tale both hugely funny and illustrative of speech comprehension nightmares.  And poor old husband.  He’s just making the supper, not realising what a deafening cacophony he is unleashing right behind his wife’s head.

Nigel and I used to have similar problems with the washing up, which he always does.  (I cook.  Nigel washes up and does the laundry.  Brilliant deal in my opinion).  He’s particularly adept at constructing large piles of pots, pans and implements in the drainer.  Inevitably, the said piles sometimes slip.  Now (post implant) it makes a clatter and I look up, somewhat startled, but I can keep calm and resume whatever I’m doing.  “It’s just my love”, I think to myself, “washing the dishes.  All is well.”

With hearing aids it was excruciating.  People don’t realise the sheer physical pain of loud noises through hearing aids.  The shock of this sudden terrible noise, and the pain of it, would often have me shouting at poor innocent hubby.  “AAARGH” I’d yell.  “AAARGH”.  Often I’d rip my hearing aids out, which is not great for communication, and occasionally flounce out of the room (also not great for marital harmony).  And all because the pans slipped.

How hard it must be for people to understand.  The problem is that Chris can hear the frozen pea packet crackling and Nigel can hear the dishes slipping but they aren’t hearing the ear-splitting, piercing, PAINFUL sounds that someone with hearing aids is hearing.  It must be baffling that a noise that seems to them so everyday is causing someone else such anguish.  What THEY hear is not what WE hear.

Sometimes problems are caused because people are just trying to be helpful.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a talk put on by a local history society.  Their Chairman was talking about the local cinema (demolished in the sixties) and the room was packed to the gills with elderly people looking forward to reminiscing about their youth at the Saturday matinees.  By the time I arrived the only seats not taken were right at the front, so I plonked myself down in the front row to listen.  The Chairman announced that they were trialling the use of a new microphone system that night (the room doesn’t have a hearing loop).  It BOOMED, if you know what I mean.  It was quite loud and also somewhat distorted, perhaps because the sound was bouncing off the walls of the small-ish room.  Then he announced that the microphone meant he was going to give his talk from the very back of the room.  Off he went, until he was standing some ten or so rows of people behind me.

He started his talk.  Bear in mind I am now very confident about my lecture-listening abilities.  The implant has made a huge difference and I can now dispense with hearing loops in almost all venues and listen to talks in quite a relaxed way, sometimes looking at the speaker and sometimes at the screen.  No problem.

But not with a BOOMING, distorting, microphone used by a speaker completely behind my back.  He began and it was hopeless.  I sat there, deciphering a little but not much, thinking through what my options were.  I could leave, but I wanted to hear the talk.  I could just sit there and look at the PowerPoint photos, but that would have been a bit sad without words to accompany them.  I could stop the proceedings and ask the chap to come back to the front, which I balked at.  Or…….

I decided just to turn round and look at him, swivelling occasionally to look at the picture on the screen.  At first he looked at me quizzically, presumably assuming I was about to ask a question, but then he just carried on.  Heaven knows what the rest of the audience thought, but I’m not easily embarrassed when my hearing is concerned.  At the end of the talk one of the committee members came up to me and said “Sorry, Vera, that didn’t work did it?”

A couple of days later I bumped into a dog walking acquaintance who had also been at the talk.  He has hearing aids and we stopped to discuss what had happened.  “The problem is”, he said, “they think it’s about volume and it isn’t – it’s about clarity” and that seemed to sum it up.


Image Copyright:  Martha Gallegos / 123RF Stock Photo



10 thoughts on “Things people don’t understand about hearing loss: number one….NOISE

  1. Hi Vera.
    I responded to your post a few days ago, and just realised that my response seems to have vanished! Anyway, I just wanted to say – yes! People with hearing loss may be living in much noisier worlds for various reasons – hearing aids, tinnitus, hyperacusis…Although I don’t wear hearing aids, my world is a much noisier place since my hearing loss. With my hearing loss, I gained a sensitivity to noise, especially loud or high pitched sounds – The sound of water from the tap hitting a metal sink, emergency service sirens, the sound of baking paper being cut, the kitchen fan…These are all unwelcome sounds to me, and it’s amazing how loud they now sound! Also amazing how much they bother my deaf ear!!

    Oh the frozen peas! You made me giggle with this! This happens to me every day. I will be concentrating so hard against background noise to pick out parts of conversation whilst trying to make sense of everything, and then someone will start whistling, turn a tap on, start talking near the person I’m focusing on – and then any attempts at understanding what on earth the person is talking about go out the window!

    Regarding people trying to be helpful, and the importance of clarity of speech…I had a recent experience at the doctors. When she realised I hadn’t heard her, she proceeded to shout at the top of her voice, and make strange over pronounced shapes with her lips (presumably to help me with any lip-reading I may have been attempting). Well, she made me jump!! And I couldn’t even start to listen or to try and understand her Spanish – all I could do was stare in shock at the weird way she was contorting her lips!

    Thanks for sharing such a great post Vera…ahhh, the frozen peas are still making me chuckle!!
    Hope you are well.

    1. Hello Carly. Your comments always give me pause for thought. I’m so wrapped up in the issues I’ve had that the fact that someone without a hearing aid can experience the same problems quite passes me by. Thank you for telling us about it. It makes it even more clear that we don’t live in a quiet world, just a distorted world!
      I’m well. Are you??? We need an update to your last blog post…..

      1. Hello Vera. Yes, we do seem to live in a distorted world!
        I’m ok , although still not back at work. I have so much pressure in my ears and am dizzy throughout the day. I haven’t had another vertigo attack though, which is good news 🙂
        Glad you are well Vera, and hope the sun has been shining for you in Yorkshire.
        Take care

  2. Hi Vera,

    Great blog again. According to my audiologist my hearing aids should automatically reduce background noise. The reality is they don’t and trying to have conversations in background noise can be impossible at times, because as we all know, hearing aids pick up all sounds and dump them down my ear canals, technology huh!

    Take this morning. Listening to the news on the bedside radio. Rather than turn up the radio volume, I put my right ear aid in only for the 8 a.m. flight from Leeds Bradford to Faro to pass overhead. We are on the flight path for those heading south. So couldn’t hear the radio, all I got was the engine roar!

    1. Thanks Ian. In researching for this last post I searched on “hearing aids and background noise” and got lots of sites telling me that modern hearing aids CAN reduce background noise, but I don’t know anyone who thinks they work very well….or at least not for the sounds you wish were reduced. I once had hearing aids that DID dramatically reduce the sound of the hoover (it was quite weird and disorienting to experience, actually, because it only kicked in after a few seconds and your instinct was that the hoover had stopped working) but didn’t make any difference to “speech through noise”. So why do audiologists all think they work?? Is it that there are loads of people out there with a quite different experience??? Vera.

  3. Yes Vera, it all sounds familiar. Hearing aids can be a help and a curse. Despite the fact I supposedly have a setting to dim background noise it does not seem to help. My husbands habit is to tap his fingers on the table when someone is talking so I am more aware of the tapping than the conversation. I also ask him to mute the TV when he wants to say something to me but mostly he forgets, is there such a thing as marriage counselling for hard of hearing! Onwards and upwards

    1. Hello Patricia. I agree about the settings that allegedly dim background noise but don’t seem to, and the see the comment from Ian saying exactly the same thing. Vera.

  4. Oh Vera, I was smiling all the way through reading this. It is so familiar! My version is when, having just snuggled down comfortably with a favourite film my dear husband, bless him, will decide to try opening one of those ‘sealed against allcomers’ bags of mixed nuts or bite into the crunchiest apple imaginable just next to me. I’ve tried describing the effect of this on me but he just doesn’t get it at all!! 😊

    1. Oh yes!! Nut packets……horrible!!!
      Last week I was sitting opposite someone on the train back from London. She had bought a sushi meal and was busy opening the relevant bits of it. The sachets of soy sauce and wasabi paste were especially hard to get in to and she was tugging at them with her teeth and trying to pull them open. It was fascinating and VERY loud. I sat there trying not to stare and wondering to myself if it was just me who was completely distracted by the sound or whether the people around me heard just as much but were managing to be more polite………

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