Northside Health Library

Living with hearing loss


If you are living with hearing loss, you likely know that it takes extra effort and energy for you and others to communicate.

By learning techniques and changes to improve communication, you can avoid stress and fatigue for you and those around you. The goal is to avoid becoming socially isolated and less independent, and to keep you safe wherever you are.

Managing the Environment

How a room is set up, as well as the type of room or space in which you have a conversation, can influence how easy, or hard, it is to hear and understand what others are saying.

Since a sound’s loudness fades quickly the farther you are from the person speaking, being closer to a speaker is important.

Other background noises in the room also make hearing difficult. Distracting noises may include: heating or air conditioning, other people talking, shuffling papers, radios and TV, and traffic sounds. In order for speech to be heard easily, it should be 20 - 25 decibels louder than any other surrounding noises.

Rooms in which sound bounces off surfaces, such as walls, windows, and hard floors, create echoes or reverberations, which may distort someone's speech. As a result, rooms with tile or cement floors --especially in larger spaces -- make understanding speech more difficult. In general, it is much easier to hear in rooms that are carpeted and have upholstered furniture.

Changes in your house or office can help:

  • Make sure there is enough lighting to see facial features and other visual cues.
  • Position your chair so that your back is to a light source rather than your eyes.
  • If your hearing is better in one ear, position your chair so the person talking is more likely to be on your good side.

When Taking Part in a Conversation

It's easy for almost anyone, whether or not their hearing is impaired, to daydream a little bit during a conversation. However, people with hearing loss should pay close attention when talking to others.

Allow the conversation to flow for a while if you do not understand at first. Sometimes a key word or sentence will come up again. However, if you become lost, interrupt and ask for something to be repeated or rephrased.

You can use a technique called speech reading to better understand what is being said. The technique involves using the expression of someone's face, their posture, their hand or facial gestures, and the tone of their voice to better understand what the person is saying. Speech reading is different than the lip reading.

In order to use this technique you must be facing the person who is talking and have enough light in the room so you can see their face clearly.

Sometimes visual cues can also help. Carry a notepad and pencil and use it to ask for a key word or phrase to be written.

What Else

Many different devices to help those with hearing loss are available. If you are using hearing aids, regular visits with your audiologists are important.

Others with whom you often speak can learn communication techniques.

See also: Talking to someone with hearing loss


Dugan MB. Living with Hearing Loss. Galludet University Press , Washington DC. March 2003.

Review Date: 7/7/2011
Reviewed By: Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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