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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Cranking up the volume doesn’t always resolve hearing loss problems. Here’s something to consider: Many people can’t hear conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. The reason for this is hearing loss frequently develops unevenly. You often lose specific frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make voices sound muffled.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more prevalent and caused by issues with the little hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. These hairs move when they sense sound and send out chemical messages to the auditory nerve, which transmits 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 the natural aging process is often 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 take certain medications.
  • Conductive hearing loss happens when the ear has internal mechanical issues. It might be a congenital structural issue or due to an ear infection or excessive wax buildup. Your underlying condition, in many cases, can be addressed by your hearing specialist and they can, if needed, recommend hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing impairment.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

You might hear a bit better if people talk louder to you, but it isn’t going to comprehensively manage your hearing loss problems. Specific sounds, such as consonant sounds, can become hard to hear for people who have sensorineural hearing loss. Despite the fact that people around them are speaking clearly, someone with this condition might think that people are mumbling.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them hard to hear for somebody dealing with hearing loss. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and many consonants register in our ears at a higher pitch than other sounds. Depending on the voice of the person speaking, 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. People with sensorineural hearing loss have a hard time processing these higher-pitched sounds because of the damage to their inner ears.

This is why simply speaking louder doesn’t always help. It’s not going to 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 come with a component that goes in the ear, so sounds get to your auditory system without the interference you would typically hear in your environment. Hearing aids also help you by amplifying the frequencies you can’t hear and balancing that with the frequencies you can hear. This makes what you hear much more clear. Modern hearing aids can also block out background sound to make it easier to make out 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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