Why You Can’t Make Out Conversation, But You Can Hear Soft Sounds

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always remedy hearing loss problems. Consider this: Many people can’t hear conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. The reason for this is hearing loss often develops unevenly. You often lose certain frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make speech sound garbled.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a mechanical issue in the ear. It might be a congenital structural problem or because of an ear infection or excessive wax accumulation. Your underlying condition, in many circumstances, can be managed by your hearing specialist and they can, if needed, advise hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more prevalent and caused by problems with the delicate hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. These hairs vibrate when they sense sound and send out chemical impulses to the auditory nerve, which passes them to the brain for interpretation. When these little hairs in your inner ear are injured or killed, they don’t regenerate. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is commonly caused by the normal process of aging. Over the course of our lives, sensorineural hearing loss develops because we expose ourselves to loud noise, have underlying health conditions, and use certain medications.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

You may hear a little better if people talk louder to you, but it’s not going to comprehensively manage your hearing loss problems. Individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss have trouble making out certain sounds, like consonants in speech. Although people around them are speaking clearly, somebody with this condition might think that people are mumbling.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them hard to hear for someone experiencing hearing loss. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is calculated in hertz (hz) and the higher pitch of consonants is what makes them more difficult for some people to hear. Depending on the voice of the person talking, a short “o”, for example, will register between 250 and 1,000 hertz. Conversely, consonants like “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. People with sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty processing these higher-pitched sounds due to the damage to their inner ears.

Because of this, simply speaking louder is not always helpful. If you can’t understand some of the letters in a word like “shift,” it won’t make much difference how loudly the other person speaks.

How do Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing aids have a component that goes in the ear, so sounds get to your auditory system without the interference you would normally hear in your environment. Hearing aids also help you by amplifying the frequencies you can’t hear and balancing that with the frequencies you are able to hear. In this way, you get more clarity. Modern hearing aids can also cancel out background noise to make it easier to understand speech.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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