Can YOU Hear a Burp?

I have a small bone to pick with people who can hear well. It’s not that I begrudge them their hearing—but do they have to be so show-offy about it?

These people let you know when they hear a pin drop. They can understand what’s being said way over there. They can understand speech in noisy situations—on a roller coaster, for example. And that’s all very nice but why do they need to ask me—a certified HoH (hard of hearing person), the crowned Queen of Pardon?—if I hear that itty-bitty chickadee on top of that tree half a mile away. Why even bother excusing themselves for a burp? There’s no way I would hear what must be all of 15 decibels, hardly a Richter-scale vibration.

In those moments, in the grip of a secret fit of hearing-envy, I have to remind myself, who really wants to hear all that stuff? Pretty birdsong is one thing, but when  it comes to indelicate sounds, people with high frequency hearing loss should be grateful at being spared what hearing people must endure. I’m talking about the various and inharmonious noises, hums, hisses, thuds and reverberations that emanate from a person’s body parts and body movements. Can you hear all those? If you do, I offer you congratulations. Also, condolences.

Let’s take what my mother, who was a nurse, referred to as expelling flatus per os (by mouth): the common burp or belch. Most people swallow their burps, do it privately, or keep them quiet and I don’t hear them. My ears only pick up those emitted by people who don’t care who hears it, or who are prepared to apologize profusely once they feel better. The type of belch that comes from deep inside, that would cause serious internal harm if it were suppressed.

As a Wonder Woman of Speechreading, I can tell you that what people with hearing loss don’t hear, we see. When a person burps, they clench their jaw, open their lips slightly and do a forward neck-and-chin thrust as they push out their stomach muscles. (This is an exclusive, folks; this tip is not taught in regular speechreading classes.)

Years ago, I worried about not hearing my baby burp—would he blow up if I couldn’t get the gas out of him?  I patted the kid’s back longer and harder than most moms but it worked—my baby never exploded! Mind you, when I look at him now at age 20, he does seem slightly swaybacked.

And hey, how about the irritating whistling nose? I hear it rarely, usually when sitting very close to my husband or when my hearing aids are at the top of their game with fresh wax guards and batteries. The only swallowing sounds I hear are my own and because of this, I can only imagine how hearing people must suffer through the swallowing, slurping, tongue-sucking, lip smacking, and open-mouthed mastication of other diners. But pity the poor chronic speechreaders: we have to watch those slurpy sounds being made!

And don’t you just love tummy echoes? After being fitted with new hearing aids, I remember hearing my stomach growl and thinking, oh my dear God, has everyone else been hearing this?  I assumed the sound would be well muffled by clothes and tummy blubber. In case you’re missing all the fun, here’s how to visually recognize the sound of an eloquent stomach: the person quickly places the flat of their hand on their belly—like that’s going to stop it—while looking around furtively to see if anyone has heard. Out of courtesy, I avert my eyes and keep my face blank.

There’s another body sound that, like everyone else, I can detect using several senses—hearing, vision and smell. None of us are immune from this occurrence and we all perceive it in others. Exposure to this type of flatus is the great equalizer between hearing people and those with hearing loss, and I’m grateful for that, I guess.

But when I don’t hear or see a sound, I’d appreciate you hearing people not telling me about it. I have enough on my plate as it is.


About Gael Hannan

The Better HearingConsumer addresses the personal experience of living with hearing loss. Editor Gael Hannan and her occasional guest bloggers explore every corner of the hearing loss life with humor and poignancy. Comment Policy   Gael Hannan, Editor Gael Hannan is an author, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog at the Better Hearing Consumer, which has a passionate international following,Gael has written two acclaimed books, “The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss”and “Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss”, written with Shari Eberts. She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work that advocates for individuals to become more knowledgeable and successful at dealing with their hearing loss and a more inclusive society for them to live in. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, Canada. Books and other media Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss. Written with Shari Eberts and available anywhere books are sold. The Way I Hear It: A Life With Hearing Loss. Available through online bookstores. Unheard Voices, DVD, vignettes from the hearing loss life. Contact Gael Hannan to order.


  1. I’m curious about what you think of these sounds after you get your CI… I have a decibel meter on my phone (decibel tenth) that I use to check to see if a sound is really loud, or if it’s possibly MY perception of said sound… take my sweetie’s snoring… to me, it sounds explosive, but when I check it on the DB meter, it registers around 20-30 db, if that… I can only hear loud burps (the intentional type, that come with “excuse me”s) but i suspect that I’m able to block out most body sounds that I’m not trying to hear, and I suspect that’s the case with hearing people…

    I’m still not sure if I can hear birds. I may be able to, but can’t identify bird sounds because I’m not familiar with them. My cats, however… especially our yeller…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.