Our patients often ask us why they seem to have significantly greater difficulty hearing in crowded spaces than in other situations. When they are talking to people one-on-one, or in small groups of people there is no problem, and they seem to hear just fine. But in a crowd, such as a noisy party or in large public gatherings, suddenly it becomes difficult to understand what the person speaking to them is saying, or to distinguish the speaker’s voice from the background sounds. The same people that have difficulty with crowds, will often also express that they find it challenging to hear and distinguish certain consonants especially H, F, and S.
If this situation sounds familiar to you, it may be an indication that you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss. Human speech, especially the consonants “S,” “H,” and “F,” fall into the range of sounds between 3000 and 8000 Hertz, which scientists define as “high-frequency.” In a crowded situation there are many sounds across the frequency spectrum competing with one another. Much of the background noise – such as people dancing or walking – occurs at lower frequencies. Speech is layered on top of this in the higher frequency ranges. People with high-frequency hearing loss tend to perceive the lower frequencies – in this case, the noise – as sounding louder than the higher frequencies, which they are now having more trouble hearing.
At least 18 percent of the population suffers from some form of high-frequency hearing loss. High-frequency hearing loss is normal with aging, but is increasingly being diagnosed in younger adults too. Audiologists suspect this may come from repeated exposure to loud music especially through personal headphones. Other factors that can cause hearing loss include genetics, exposure to toxic drugs (including some chemotherapy agents), diabetes, and other diseases.
If you have indeed suffered some high-frequency hearing loss, it can be treated. We can prescribe hearing aids that have been adjusted to reduce the volume of low-frequency sounds and boost the volume of the higher frequencies, so that you can hear better in crowds.
The first step is to visit one of our specialists, and make sure that the problem is caused by a loss of hearing. Our specialists can perform tests to determine whether your problem hearing in crowds is really related to hearing loss, or whether it might arise from other causes.