Whenever there is background noise I have difficulty hearing people. The problem seems to be an inability to pick out the sound of the person talking to me. What can I do to get round it?

Dr Fred Kavalier answers your health question:

People who can't follow conversations at parties or in noisy rooms usually are having problems with binaural hearing. This is the ability to pick up sounds in both ears, and then localise where the sound is coming from. Binaural hearing is important in noisy environments, as it effectively lets you filter out the sounds that you are not interested in. There is a test that was designed in America called the Hearing in Noise Test, which is a sensitive way of identifying this kind of problem. When you take the test you have to listen to spoken sentences and then repeat them back. The sentences are read out in both quiet and noisy conditions. The background noise is played from different directions, and the test measures how well someone can comprehend ordinary speech. The Royal National Institute for the Deaf has a telephone hearing test that tests your ability to hear sounds when there is background noise. Try it on 0845 600 5555. Their helpful website is: www.rnid.org.uk. If the telephone test shows your hearing to be below normal, try to get a referral to a hospital audiology department.

Please mail your questions for Dr Fred to health@independent.co.uk. He regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.