Our patients frequently ask us why they seem to have greater difficulty hearing in busy rooms than in other conditions. 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. Not so in crowded situations. Whether in large public space outdoors such as a football game or indoors at a party, they report being unable to distinguish the speakers’ voice over the background noise. This is true even when the speaker is close by and addressing them directly. People who complain of this also often mention having trouble hearing the consonants “S,” “F,” and “H,” no longer being able to distinguish one from the other.
If these challenges sounds familiar to you, it is possible that you have a degree of hearing loss in the high-frequency range. When describing human speech, audiologists define the 3000 to 8000 Hz range as high-frequency. This is the range that the S, F, and H sounds typically fall into. 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. Those suffering from high-frequency hearing loss tend to perceive the low-frequency sounds (which in this case qualify as noise) as sounding louder than the high-frequency sounds they are trying to focus on – the voices of people speaking to them.
At least 18% of the population suffers from some form of high-frequency hearing loss. The most common cause of this is aging, but in recent years audiologists have found increasing numbers of teenagers and young adults suffering from it, possibly as a result of listening to overly loud music. High-frequency hearing loss can also be the result of diabetes, a side affect of certain prescription drugs or genetic factors.
If you are having trouble hearing in crowds and the reason turns out to be high-frequency hearing loss you’ll be glad to know that this can be treated. Hearing aids can be adjusted to amplify the higher frequencies and suppress lower frequencies, with the result that you can hear voices better in crowded rooms.
Before we get too far into treatment options, it is critical that you have a proper diagnosis. To find out if high-frequency hearing loss is the root cause behind your difficulty hearing in crowds, call and make a first appointment. Our audiologist can perform a variety of tests to identify the underlying cause of the problem and recommend the best treatment options for your specific situation.