Why You Can’t Make Out Conversation, But You Can Hear Soft Sounds

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Hearing loss problems aren’t always solved by cranking the volume up. Think about this: Lots of people are unable to hear conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. That’s because hearing loss is often uneven. Certain frequencies get lost while you can hear others perfectly fine.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more common and caused by issues with the fragile hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. These hairs move when they sense sound and release chemical impulses to the auditory nerve, which passes them to the brain for translation. These little hairs do not regenerate when damaged or destroyed. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is commonly caused by the natural process of aging. Over the course of our lives, sensorineural hearing loss increases because we expose ourselves to loud noise, have underlying health conditions, and take certain medications.
  • Conductive hearing loss occurs when the ear has internal mechanical issues. It could be a congenital structural problem or due to an ear infection or excessive wax buildup. Your underlying condition, in many circumstances, can be addressed by your hearing specialist and they can, if necessary, advise hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

Asking people to talk louder will help some, but it won’t fix your hearing problems. People with sensorineural hearing loss have a difficult time hearing specific sounds, including consonants in speech. This could lead somebody with hearing loss to the incorrect idea that people around them are mumbling when in fact, they are talking clearly.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them difficult to hear for somebody experiencing hearing loss. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is measured in hertz (hz) and the higher pitch of consonants is what makes them more difficult for some people to hear. For instance, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person speaking. But consonants like “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. People with sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty processing these higher-pitched sounds due to the damage to their inner ears.

Because of this, simply speaking louder is not always helpful. It won’t help much when someone talks louder if you don’t hear some of the letters in a word like “shift”.

How Can Using Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing Aids fit in your ears helping sound reach your auditory system more directly and get rid of some of the outside noise you would typically hear. Also, the frequencies you are unable to hear are boosted and mixed with the sounds you can hear in a balanced way. In this way, you get more clarity. 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.