Why Can I Hear Soft Sounds But Can't Make Out Conversations?

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Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Hearing loss problems aren’t always solved by turning the volume up. Here’s something to think about: Lots of people are unable to understand conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. That’s because hearing loss is often irregular. You often lose certain frequencies but are able to hear others, and that can make voices sound garbled.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Sensorineural hearing loss develops when the little hairs in the inner ear, also called cilia, are harmed, and this condition is more prevalent. These hairs vibrate when they sense sound and release chemical impulses to the auditory nerve, which passes them to the brain for interpretation. When these fragile hairs in your inner ear are injured or killed, they don’t ever re-grow. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is frequently 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 take certain medications.
  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a mechanical problem in the ear. It might be because of excessive earwax buildup or due to an ear infection or a congenital structural problem. In many circumstances, audiologists can treat the root condition to improve your hearing, and if necessary, recommend hearing aids to make up for any remaining hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

You may hear a bit better if people talk louder to you, but it’s not going to comprehensively address your hearing loss problems. Specific sounds, like consonant sounds, can become difficult to hear for individuals who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss. Even though people around them are speaking clearly, someone with this condition might think that everyone is mumbling.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them difficult to hear for somebody experiencing hearing loss. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and many consonants register in our ears at a higher pitch than other sounds. For instance, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person speaking. Conversely, consonants like “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. Due to damage to the inner ear, these higher pitches are difficult to hear for people who have sensorineural hearing loss.

This is why just speaking louder doesn’t always help. 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 talks.

How Can Using Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing Aids fit in your ears helping sound get into your auditory system more directly and eliminating some of the outside sound you would normally hear. 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 a lot more clear. Modern hearing aids also make it easier to hear speech by blocking some of the unwanted background noise.

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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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