A frequent question from patients pertains to being able to hear in crowded spaces. 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 when they find themselves in a large crowd they often find it very difficult to understand what the people speaking to them directly are saying, or even to hear their voices over the background noise. People who complain of this condition often report that they have difficulty distinguishing between consonants such as the letters “F,” “S,” and “H.”
If this situation sounds familiar to you, it may be an indication that you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss. When describing human speech, audiologists define the 3000 to 8000 Hertz range as high-frequency. This is the range that the F, S, 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.
High-frequency hearing loss is quite common. Some studies have found that as much as 18% of the population is affected. 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 effect 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. 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.
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.