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Is Everyone Mumbling, or is it Time to Get My Hearing Tested?

Do you struggle to hear what your favourite actors are saying on the TV shows you’re watching? Do others complain that your TV volume is too loud, but you think it’s fine? Perhaps you’ve started to turn the subtitles on, and this feels more comfortable for you? You’re not alone in feeling like this. A recent article in the Times reports record complaints to the BBC about mumbling actors, inaudible dialogue, and booming soundtracks in its TV dramas.

But what if it’s not just the actors on your TV who are mumbling, but your friends, your family, your colleagues. Do you find yourself saying, Sorry? and What did you say? more than you have before? Do you also find yourself worried about going out to restaurants, in case it’s really noisy, and you can’t seem to hear what your companions are saying?


Are restaurants more noisy than they used to be?

The world has got progressively noisier. The Times reports that restaurants in London are the loudest in Europe, second only to San Francisco globally: more than half are too noisy to hold a conversation, with decibel levels the same as a lawnmower. A decibel level of 76 dBA is classified as safe for hearing, but difficult for conversation, with anything above 80 dBA unsafe for the human ear. During peak times, 50 per cent of London restaurants exceed 80 dBA. If you’re eating at these restaurants, it’s perhaps hardly surprising that you find yourself struggling to hold a conversation. The cultural landscape of eating out has changed, explains Gregory Scott, founder of the app SoundPrint. ‘Forty or fifty years ago restaurants were a place for conversation, they had soft furnishing, carpets, drapes which meant that even in a packed dining room you could talk with ease over a meal. But things have changed. Some restaurants are now like a nightclub or bar.’


Can technology help with avoiding noisy restaurants or inaudible TV programmes?

There are some technologies that can help combat our noisier world. If you’re worried about socialising in a certain place because it might be too loud, Scott’s SoundPrint app allows users to screen restaurants, bars, and cafés by sound levels on a database populated by recordings and decibel level readings submitted by other users. The BBC is trialling technology – an ‘Accessible Mix’ slider function – that allows audiences to decrease the volume of background noise such as special effects or music while boosting characters’ voices, making plot and dialogue easier to follow. These technologies are all really positive, but they have a connecting thread that we shouldn’t ignore – they were either developed by, or with, people already suffering from hearing loss.

Scott, who wears a hearing aid, launched SoundPrint after he realised he was struggling to hear his dates in noisy eateries in New York. He found himself recording decibel levels in local restaurants and sharing his list of ‘quiet places’ so that anybody, whatever the level of their hearing loss, could benefit. The BBC’s ‘Accessible Mix’ function is being trialled with organisations such as Action on Hearing Loss and the University of the Third Age, with viewers experiencing hearing loss the BBC’s key target demographic for this experimental technology.


How an audiology consultation can help clear up any confusion

So while we know that the world is getting louder, and you are certainly not alone in feeling this, it is also a good idea to book a hearing test to check for any other underlying issues. A hearing test conducted by a skilled audiologist is a pain-free process that might answer a lot of questions that have been building up for you, and boost your longer term physical and mental health. It might be that your hearing is normal, and you can make your own personal adjustments to living in a noisy world. It may simply be a build-up of ear wax, easily rectified with treatment, or you may need some further consultation and help with your hearing. Whatever the outcome, it’s always best to seek the expert advice and care you need now.


Find out more

If you are experiencing difficulties with your hearing and would like to book a hearing test with one of our Consultant Audiologists, please call 020 7244 4200 or make an appointment online.