Have you ever been at a restaurant or social gathering where there is noise in the background and you couldn’t understand what the person sitting right next to you is saying? Do you often just nod your head and “fake” understanding people or ask them to repeat themselves more than once?  Difficulty hearing in noise is a common issue and seems to get worse with age.  There are a few reasons for this.  A combination of factors can contribute to the increased difficulty.

The first and most common reason is undiagnosed hearing loss.  People with hearing loss often have trouble “masking” out or separating speech from background noise.  Other signs that hearing loss might be the cause of your hearing in noise difficulties are:

  • You have trouble hearing people talking on the phone.
  • You have trouble following conversations where there are multiple speakers (i.e. at a dinner table, business meeting, etc.).
  • You find yourself turning up the TV louder than you used to.
  • You strain to hear conversations. This may cause you to also feel stressed and exhausted at the end of a long day. Having to focus so intently can be very fatiguing.
  • You say “what” a lot or often ask people to repeat what they are saying (while other people around you have no trouble at all).
  • You misunderstand what people are saying. For instance, you may think your friend said “Can you pick up my cat?” when they actually said “Do you like my hat?”.   It’s funny for a while but eventually it can become more serious.
  • You have more trouble hearing women and children (who generally have softer, higher-pitched voices).
  • You become annoyed with others when you can’t understand them.

Also, there is some research that suggests that there is a “dimmer switch” that controls input from your ears to your brain and vice versa. That “dimmer switch” appears to falter with age.  This is sometimes referred to as the “cocktail party effect”. It starts to diminish in late 30’s and worsens past age 62 based on research done by Robert Frisnia of the University of Rochester in New York in 2002.  Researchers are still investigating why this happens and if something can be done to lessen this this deterioration.

In the meantime, it is recommended that you first have a complete audiological evaluation with a hearing healthcare professional. At HearMD, our hearing healthcare professionals can help you determine what might be causing your hearing difficulty and come up with a treatment plan that might help if necessary.  Don’t suffer in silence.


Dybala, P. (2014, December 26). Ten Signs You May Have Hearing Loss. Retrieved from http://www.healthyhearing.com/report/43310-Ten-signs-of-hearing

Can’t Hear At Holiday Parties? Blame Your Brain. (2008, December 29). Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/28423422/ns/health-health_care/t/cant-hear-holiday-parties-blame-your-brain/#.WEnTppozX4Y