Why You Can’t Understand Conversation, But You Can Hear Soft Sounds

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always solve hearing loss issues. Think about this: Lots of people are capable of hearing very soft sounds, but can’t hear conversations. That’s because hearing loss is frequently uneven. You often lose certain frequencies but are able to hear others, and that can make speech sound muffled.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Conductive hearing loss develops when the ear has internal mechanical issues. It may be a result of too much buildup of earwax or caused by an ear infection or a congenital structural problem. Your root condition, in many circumstances, can be managed by your hearing specialist and they can, if needed, recommend hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing impairment.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss develops when the tiny hairs in the inner ear, also known as cilia, are damaged, and this condition is more prevalent. When sound is perceived, it vibrates these hairs which send chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be passed to the brain for translation. When these fragile hairs in your inner ear are injured or destroyed, they do not regenerate. This is why the natural aging process is frequently the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Things like exposure to loud noise, particular medications, and illnesses can also bring about sensorineural hearing loss.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Asking people to talk louder will help to some extent, but it won’t fix your hearing problems. Individuals who cope with sensorineural hearing loss have trouble understanding certain sounds, like consonants in speech. This may cause someone who has hearing loss to the mistaken conclusion that those around them are mumbling when in fact, they’re speaking clearly.

The frequency of consonant sounds make them hard 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 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 like “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 individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss.

This is why simply speaking louder doesn’t always help. It’s not going to help much when someone speaks louder if you don’t understand some of the letters in a word like “shift”.

How Can Using Hearing Aids Help With This?

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. Also, the frequencies you are unable to hear are boosted and mixed with the sounds you are able to hear in a balanced way. This makes what you hear much more clear. Modern hearing aids also make it easier to hear speech by canceling 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.