It's a common problem: Due to hearing loss, you have a hard time watching television. Even with the volume at maximum level, many people can't quite make out the dialogue.

For me, this issue hits close to home.

In the later years of his life, my dad struggled to understand what was being said on TV shows. When I called or visited him, the TV was often at full blast. And yet, he complained, that really didn't help him follow the on-screen conversations. It simply added another layer of commotion.

"We see this issue quite a bit, especially with our older patients," says Dr. Meredith Scharf of Manhattan Audiological Services in New York. "It's not just volume; it's clarity any time there's a high background level of noise. It can be with speech and conversations, as well as with TV."

Hearing loss can also be an issue for children and younger adults, who may be using laptops and other mobile devices to watch TV shows and movies.

"The younger generation, like my daughter—who is hard of hearing—often don’t own a television and stream from their laptops," says Janice S. Lintz, a New York City-based hearing access consultant and CEO of Hearing Access & Innovations. There are solutions for those types of listeners, too, she says, which we address below.

If you're having trouble, it's always a good idea to get your hearing checked by an audiologist or other specialist. But, meanwhile, you don't need to give up on your favorite programs. Here are a few technologies and strategies that can help.

TV Audio Settings

The thought of playing around with a TV's settings makes many people uncomfortable, but it's worthwhile if you suffer from hearing loss. Most televisions have a number of audio settings that can help, and it's almost impossible to mess things up. If you don't like the result, you can just restore the manufacturer's default settings.

To begin, go into the TV's menu, click the icon or label for Settings, and look for an item labeled Audio or Sound.

Now look for the available pre-sets. Some TVs have a setting specifically designed to enhance dialogue—that can be really helpful.

There may also be a "night" mode, which flattens out the volume, so there's less difference between loudest explosions and softest whispers. (The idea is to let you set the volume with less risk of waking your spouse or neighbors.) If it's on, try turning it off and you might find it easier to hear what's being said.

Next, some TVs try to create a surround-sound effect with a more diffuse soundfield. In that case, switching the TV to Stereo or Normal might help. If the set decodes multichannel sound, such as Dolby Digital or DTS, you may be able to boost the volume of the center-channel speaker, which contains dialogue, and then reduce the volume levels of the other speakers.

And if the TV has a "User" mode, it may have an equalizer (EQ) that lets you adjust various frequencies.

"Many older adults experience high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss, which can affect the clarity of the program," Scharf explains. "An increase in volume alone will not help."

If that's the case, try lowering the bass and lower mid-range and boosting the upper midrange and higher frequencies, where voices are typically found, to compensate. Sometimes there are EQ pre-sets that automatically do the same thing. They're all worth trying.

Sound Bar Speakers

Sound bar speakers are a great way to improve TV sound and a few claim to have built-in voice-enhancement technologies.

We don't test those features in our labs, so I can't vouch for their effectiveness. But you may want to give them a try. For example, the Sonos Playbar speaker, which is a bit pricey at $700, has a "Speech Enhancement" setting that purports to boost the audio frequencies associated with the human voice. 

Zvox markets several sound bars—including the $200 AccuVoice AV200 TV Speaker—designed specifically to improve dialogue intelligibility. According to the company, the AccuVoice feature tries to mimic the function of a hearing aid by isolating voice frequencies and lifting them out of background sounds.

Wireless Headphones and Headsets

Some TVs are outfitted with two-way Bluetooth, which lets you send the sound straight to a pair of wireless headphones. If your set lacks this feature, you can purchase a system with a transmitter that plugs into your TV and a set of headphones with a built-in receiver. The headphones typically work using infrared radio frequencies, or Bluetooth. Some models, such as Sennheiser’s RS 195, have a speech-enhancement mode that claims to boost the dialogue while lowering background noise.

There are also stethoscope-style headphones, called stethosets or TV listeners, designed to enhance TV sound for those with hearing loss. They, too, work by boosting the frequencies common to dialogue.

TV Ears is probably the best-known manufacturer, though other companies, including Sennheiser, make stethoset-style systems. These generally use a small base unit with a transmitter you connect to the TV and a pair of horseshoe-shaped earphones with a receiver. For homes with more than one person suffering from hearing loss, you can also find TV speakers outfitted with the same technology.

Media Streamers

There are a few different ways to connect your hearing aids to your television. Media streamers, which are basically transmiters that attach to the TV and send signals to hearings aids, are one way to do this. On the positive side, they can transmit the sound directly from your television—and sometimes a smartphone or tablet—to your hearing aid. And like other wireless options, they offer range and portability.

But streamers typically only work with a specific brand of hearing aid.

"That can be an issue if the person changes hearing aid brands or potentially even models; they might need to purchase a new streamer, and that can be quite costly," says Lintz at Hearing Access & Innovations. The lack of cross-brand compatibility is also a problem in homes where more than one person has hearing loss. "Potentially, each member will need their own individual streamer, and they might need to be replaced when a new hearing aid is purchased," she says.

Neck and Room Loops

Another option for those who already use a hearing aid is a loop system. There are both headset systems and installed loop systems. A room loop, also known as an induction loop, is a technology often deployed in Broadway theaters and movie houses, but it can be set up on a smaller scale in your home.

You connect an amplifier to your TV's audio output and run a wire around the perimeter of the room. The equipment then distributes electromagnetic TV signals that can be picked up by a tiny receiver (called a T-coil or telecoil) built into most hearing aids. One benefit to this approach is that multiple listeners can tune in, provided they each have a compatible receiver in their hearing aids. Another plus: You get good reception no matter where you are in the room, so you don't have to worry about moving around.

"A person with hearing loss who watches television on their laptop can also use a headset that is hearing-aid compatible," Lintz explains. These T-coil compatible headsets also work with many cochlear implants, she says, providing a direct transmission of the audio signal.

Closed Captions

One additional remedy, especially for those with significant or total hearing loss, is to turn on the closed caption function in the settings on your TV, cable box, or laptop and read the dialogue as it scrolls across your screen. My dad found that helpful. My wife and I did, too—when our son was an infant and we wanted to watch TV while he slept.

This also works well for shows with rapid-fire dialogue or in rooms filled with people shouting about an awards ceremony or a sporting event. We found that it works best for pre-recorded shows, though. In live programs, the transcribing that takes place on the fly can often produce comical results.