People are often motivated to visit an audiologist when they begin to notice a difficulty to hear in noisy environments. Hearing-in-noise issues can arise due to many reasons, and individuals with hearing loss have more difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments than those with normal hearing. Even without hearing loss, however, certain individuals struggle to hear in noise. A classic example is a middle-aged person who doesn’t have age-related hearing loss just yet but notices a decrease in his or her hearing. There are many examples of healthy individuals with normal hearing who nevertheless experience hearing issues in noisy environments, including restaurants, classrooms, and sports arenas, to cite a few.

In previous Hearing Matters columns, we have reviewed many factors that play into a patient’s hearing-in-noise abilities, including their cognitive abilities, brain function, and life experience. Here, we dive deeper into how different life experiences can shape an individual’s ability to hear in noise. Specifically, we propose that hearing history is a crucial factor that needs to be considered when evaluating a patient’s listening skills. These experiential factors affect hearing-in-noise abilities because they influence cognition, language, and neural functions—all of which, in turn, are important for hearing in noise. These experiences can help or hurt our ability to hear in noise, or it can be a mixed bag.