Why Can I Here Soft Sounds But Can’t Make Out Conversations?

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always solve hearing loss issues. Here’s something to consider: Many people are capable of hearing really soft sounds, but can’t make out conversations. That’s because hearing loss is often uneven. You tend to lose particular frequencies but are able to hear others, and that can make voices sound muffled.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss happens when the ear has internal mechanical problems. It might be a congenital structural problem or because of an ear infection or excessive wax accumulation. In many circumstances, hearing specialists can treat the root condition to enhance your hearing, and if required, recommend hearing aids to make up for any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more common and caused by problems with the fragile hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. These hairs move when they detect sound and release chemical impulses to the auditory nerve, which passes them to the brain for translation. When these delicate hairs in your inner ear are damaged or killed, they don’t ever re-grow. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is frequently a result of the natural process of aging. Things like exposure to loud noise, particular medications, and underlying health conditions can also bring about sensorineural hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

Requesting that people talk louder will help to some extent, but it won’t solve your hearing issues. Certain sounds, such as consonant sounds, can become difficult to hear for people who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss. Although people around them are speaking clearly, somebody with this condition may believe that people are mumbling.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them difficult to hear for somebody dealing with hearing loss. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and the majority of consonants register in our ears at a higher pitch than other sounds. Depending on the voice of the person talking, a short “o”, for instance, will register between 250 and 1,000 hertz. Conversely, consonants such as “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. Because of damage to the inner ear, these higher pitches are hard to hear for individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss.

This is why simply 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 speaks.

How Can Wearing 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 noise you would usually hear. Also, the frequencies you can’t hear are amplified 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 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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