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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Hearing loss issues aren’t always solved by turning the volume up. Consider this: Lots of people are able to hear very soft sounds, but can’t understand conversations. The reason for this is hearing loss frequently develops unevenly. Specific frequencies get lost while you can hear others without any problem.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more prevalent and caused by issues with the delicate hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. When sound is perceived, it moves these hairs which transmit chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be passed to the brain for translation. When these delicate hairs in your inner ear are injured or killed, they don’t ever re-grow. This is why the natural aging process is often the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Things like exposure to loud noise, specific medications, and underlying health conditions can also lead to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a mechanical issue in the ear. It could be a congenital structural problem or because of an ear infection or excessive wax accumulation. In most circumstances, hearing specialists can treat the root condition to improve your hearing, and if required, recommend hearing aids to make up for any remaining hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

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 have sensorineural hearing loss have a difficult time hearing certain sounds, like consonants in speech. This might lead someone who has hearing loss to the mistaken idea that people around them are mumbling when in fact, they are speaking clearly.

The frequency of consonant sounds make them hard to hear for someone experiencing hearing loss. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is calculated in hertz (hz) and the higher pitch of consonants is what makes them harder for some people to hear. Depending on the voice of the person talking, a short “o”, for example, will register between 250 and 1,000 hertz. But consonants including “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. 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. It won’t help much when someone talks louder if you don’t hear some of the letters in a word like “shift”.

How do Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing aids come with a component that fits into the ear, so sounds get to your auditory system without the interference you would normally hear in your environment. Hearing aids also help you by boosting the frequencies you’re unable to hear and balancing that with the frequencies you can hear. In this way, you attain more clarity. Modern hearing aids also make it easier to understand speech by blocking some of the unwanted background noise.

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.