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Noise Canceling Hearing Aids: How They Work

By Taylor Weeks
Medically Reviewed by Jordan Glicksman, MD, FRCSC, MPH on February 09, 2021
In addition to making sounds louder, hearing aids also filter out background noise.

Many people assume that hearing aids just make sounds louder. And while this is their main function, it's not the only one—some hearing aids also reduce background noise so you can tell different sounds apart. Here’s a little information about noise cancellation in hearing aids.

What Are Noise Canceling Hearing Aids?

Hearing aids are not technically noise canceling, Kaitlin Anderson, AuD, CCC-A, a clinical audiologist at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

“Rather, they can offer noise reduction algorithms that help improve the signal-to-noise ratio during conversation in noisy environments,” Anderson says. This means that hearing aids are able to amplify sounds you want to pay attention to, like the voice of your friend sitting across from you in a crowded restaurant, while reducing the volume of background noise, like the sounds of silverware clinking or people talking at other tables.

Hearing aids come in many different styles. Some are worn over the ear, some are worn within the ear and some types fit entirely in the ear canal. Some hearing aids also contain more advanced technology than others. The most basic hearing aids generally do not offer noise reduction.

But hearing aids with more advanced technology are able to distinguish more important sounds—like the voice of someone talking to you—from background noise, like chatter from other tables in a busy restaurant. Then, the hearing aid makes more important sounds louder without increasing the volume of less important sounds. These higher tech hearing aids are generally more expensive than their lower level counterparts, but they are better at helping you hear in noisy environments.

Who Should Consider Using Them?

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 28.8 million adults in the U.S. could benefit from the use of hearing aids. However, only a small percentage of those people have ever used them.

For people who spend most of their time in quieter places and have relatively minor hearing loss, a lower tech hearing aid that just provides basic sound amplification may be the best option. But you may want to consider a higher tech hearing aid if you spend a lot of time in “dynamic listening environments,” Anderson says. These might include:

  • Auditoriums, places of worship or other large spaces that might have a lot of echoing
  • Parties or crowded restaurants
  • Large meetings or conferences
  • Concerts or movie theaters

A medical doctor or audiologist (a professional who diagnoses and treats hearing and balance disorders) can help you determine whether hearing aids are right for you, and which type may best suit your needs. 

Hearing Loss Can Be Treated and Managed.

In many cases, hearing loss is a treatable condition. It is worth taking the time out to get the answers and treatment you or your loved one deserves. Don’t wait. Start today.