Winning the War against Hearing Loss, Part 3: Overcoming Background Noise

Bob Martin
June 30, 2015

by Bob Martin, AuD


When we help people hear well, they radiate joy. My patient Kim is a perfect example.

She is a young mother of three who came to me recently in tears. Her husband had lost his job and they were about to lose their house.

“I know how to make money,” she told me. “I am an experienced bartender. But I need to hear well in a noisy bar. I’m afraid that’s impossible. Can you help me?”

Wow! What a challenge. A woman with moderate-to-severe hearing loss needs to hear well in a high-level noise environment. Not so long ago this really would have been impossible.

Now, though, with the improvements in microphone systems, we can select the size of zone we want to hear (the degree of directionality) and eliminate most of the background noise. When the bar where she works is very noisy, Kim adjusts her hearing aids so they amplify only the sounds coming from a narrow area in front of her. The sounds coming from outside this zone are not amplified.

The company that manufactures this hearing aid system conducted research showing that people with moderate hearing loss who wore this system in a high-level noise environment could hear as well as or, sometimes, even better than people with normal hearing. Things have changed!



We all appreciate the beauty of a flower when it blooms. Kim’s story gives us two beautiful blossoms. The technologies of signal detection and on-board real-time digital processing are now matched to highly effective microphone systems. The two microphones on the left talk to the two microphones on the right and vice versa. As a result, we have a virtual eight-microphone network at work. You can adjust the size of the zone you want to hear with buttons on the hearing aids, with a remote control, or with a smart phone.

I tried this system in a noisy convention hall. Using a smart phone I touched the screen on the left and I heard sound from only that direction. I touched the screen behind me and I only heard sound from behind. All other sounds were rejected. This is beautiful technology that has recently “bloomed.”



Kim’s personal story is truly profound. A young mother needed to change places with her out-of-work husband. New technology and the skills of her audiologist (your truly) gave her functional hearing at work. To say she “bloomed” is an understatement. She glowed. She bubbled over with joy. And she was very kind and gracious when she came back to me to tell me, “Thank you.”

When someone holds your hand, looks into your eyes, and tells you, “You saved my life. Thank you,” you never forget it. On the wall behind my desk is a card that says, “Thank you, Dr. Martin, for saving my family and my house. You are the greatest.”

Next time we’ll talk about David.

  1. What is the company that manufactures the hearing aid with the adjustable range and what is the model?

    Any reason not to mention it?

Leave a Reply