Why You Can’t Understand Conversation, But You Can Hear Soft Sounds

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always resolve hearing loss problems. Think about this: Many people are capable of hearing really soft sounds, but can’t make out conversations. That’s because hearing loss is frequently irregular. Certain frequencies get lost while you can hear others without any problem.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Conductive hearing loss is a result of a mechanical problem in the ear. It might be a congenital structural problem or due to an ear infection or excessive wax buildup. In many circumstances, hearing specialists can treat the root condition to enhance your hearing, and if required, recommend hearing aids to fill in for any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more common and caused by problems with the tiny hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. These hairs move when they sense sound and send out chemical impulses to the auditory nerve, which passes them to the brain for interpretation. When these tiny hairs in your inner ear are damaged or killed, they do not regenerate. This is why the ordinary aging process is frequently the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Things like exposure to loud noise, particular medications, and illnesses can also lead to sensorineural hearing loss.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Requesting that people speak up when they talk to you will help to some extent, but it won’t solve your hearing problems. Individuals who cope with sensorineural hearing loss have a difficult time making out certain sounds, including consonants in speech. Although people around them are talking clearly, somebody with this condition might think that everyone is mumbling.

When someone is dealing with hearing loss, the pitch of consonants typically makes them hard to distinguish. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and many consonants register in our ears at a higher pitch than other sounds. For example, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person talking. Conversely, consonants like “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. Because of damage to the inner ear, these higher pitches are difficult to hear for individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss.

Because of this, simply talking 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 Can Wearing Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing aids come with a component that fits into the ear, so sounds reach your auditory system without the interference you would typically hear in your environment. Also, the frequencies you can’t hear are boosted and mixed with the sounds you are able to hear in a balanced way. This makes what you hear much more clear. Modern hearing aids can also cancel out background sound 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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