Hearing aids improve quality of life for users. Studies have even shown that treating hearing loss can have a positive impact on feelings of depression, anxiety and social isolation. Adjusting to using a hearing aid does take some time and each person has to figure out the model and protocols that work best for them.
One common issue among hearing aid users is the challenge of noisy environments, like restaurants and theaters. It’s not surprising considering that the noise level in a restaurant or bar can reach as high as 100 decibels. As a reference, normal conversation has a decibel level of 60-65 and a lawnmower has a decibel level of 90. Long-term exposure to anything above 85 decibels is considered potentially harmful. In fact, some standards require employers to provide ear protection and hearing tests for employees who are exposed to more than 85 decibels for an eight-hour workday.
Why Do Modern Hearing Aids Struggle With Crowded Places?
The core purpose of a hearing aid is to amplify sound and it does its job very well. Conversations that were once lost are regained. Connections are reestablished. Engagement is facilitated. Modern hearing aids have improved features that raise conversational sound while dampening background noises, but some environments are just too challenging. What was supposed to be an enjoyable evening out can quickly turn into an overwhelming cacophony of sound for someone wearing a hearing aid, or two.
Gregory Scott, a hearing aid user, was struggling with some of his dining experiences and decided to do something about it. Getting restaurants to stop using music and noise (which some studies say encourage faster table turnover) was not realistic, so Scott invented an app called SoundPrint. The app encourages users to record noise levels at restaurants and those results are uploaded to a database. Scott calls it “the Yelp for noise”.
SoundPrint is free to download from the App Store for iOS devices and it relies on data from users to build the database. Users measure and upload the noise data and a ranking of quiet, moderate or loud is assigned to each establishment. Anyone with the app can search for restaurants by noise level. There are submissions for New York City, San Francisco, New Orleans, Las Vegas and Ann Arbor. Residents of those cities can access a list of quiet options at soundprint.com.
If SoundPrint hasn’t reached your city yet, there are other tips you can use to lessen the impact of noisy restaurants:
- Make reservations for off-peak hours
- Sit in a corner booth
- Ask the people with you to look directly at you when they speak
- Have your partner or a friend text you the highlights of the conversation, so you can keep up with the flow
- Don’t be timid about asking someone to repeat what they said
- Know that it’s a common experience for hearing aid users
- Leave if it’s too much noise for you
Extremely noisy environments can be frustrating, but they’re also not healthy for your hearing. If you’d rather not leave, plan frequent breaks to give your ears a rest. If you’re struggling more than you think you should be with your hearing in social situations, schedule an appointment with us.