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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Cranking up the volume doesn’t always solve hearing loss problems. Consider this: Lots of people are able to hear very soft sounds, but can’t understand conversations. That’s because hearing loss is often irregular. You often lose particular frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make voices sound muffled.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a mechanical problem in the ear. It could be a congenital structural problem or due to an ear infection or excessive wax buildup. In most cases, hearing specialists can manage the underlying condition to improve your hearing, and if necessary, recommend hearing aids to fill in for any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the little hairs in the inner ear, also known as cilia, are harmed, and this condition is more prevalent. These hairs vibrate when they sense sound and send out chemical messages to the auditory nerve, which transmits them to the brain for interpretation. These fragile hairs do not regenerate when damaged or destroyed. This is why the natural aging process is frequently the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Over the course of our lives, sensorineural hearing loss develops because we expose ourselves to loud noise, have underlying health problems, and use certain medications.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

You might hear a bit better if people speak louder to you, but it’s not going to completely address your hearing loss issues. Specific sounds, including consonant sounds, can become hard to hear for people who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss. Despite the fact that people around them are talking clearly, somebody with this condition may believe that everyone is mumbling.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them difficult to hear for someone dealing with 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. For example, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person talking. 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 talking louder is not always helpful. If you can’t hear some of the letters in a word like “shift,” it won’t make much difference how loudly the other person talks.

How do Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing aids come with a component that fits into the ear, so sounds reach your auditory system without the interference you would typically hear in your environment. Also, the frequencies you are unable to hear are amplified and mixed with the sounds you can hear in a balanced way. In this way, you get more clarity. Modern hearing aids also make it easier to understand 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.