Patients often ask precisely why hearing in crowds of people is especially tough for them. When they are talking to people one-on-one, or in small groups of people there is no problem, and they seem to hear just fine. Not so in crowded situations. Whether in large public space outdoors such as a football game or indoors at a party, they report being unable to distinguish the speakers' voice over the background noise. This is true even when the speaker is close by and addressing them directly. People who complain of this condition often report that they have difficulty distinguishing between consonants such as the letters "S," "H," and "F."

If this situation sounds familiar to you, it may be an indication that you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss. Human speech, especially the consonants "S," "H," and "F," fall into the range of sounds between 3000 and 8000 Hertz, which scientists define as "high-frequency." In a crowded situation there are many sounds across the frequency spectrum competing with one another. Much of the background noise – such as people dancing or walking – occurs at lower frequencies. Speech is layered on top of this in the higher frequency ranges. Those suffering from high-frequency hearing loss tend to perceive the low-frequency sounds (which in this case qualify as noise) as sounding louder than the high-frequency sounds they are trying to focus on – the voices of people speaking to them.

High-frequency hearing loss is common, afflicting at least 18 percent of the population. One of the possible causes for this condition is aging, but high-frequency hearing loss has in recent years been increasing in teenagers and younger adults as well, possibly as a result of being exposed to overly loud music, and suffering noise-induced hearing loss. Other factors that can cause hearing loss include genetics, exposure to toxic drugs (including some chemotherapy agents), diabetes, and other diseases.

If you have indeed suffered some high-frequency hearing loss, it can be treated. Hearing aids can be adjusted to amplify the higher frequencies and suppress lower frequencies, with the result that you can hear voices better in crowded rooms.

Before we get too far into treatment options, it is critical that you have a proper diagnosis. To find out if high-frequency hearing loss is the root cause behind your difficulty hearing in crowds, call and make a first appointment. There are other causes for this, and our specialists can perform tests to determine whether the cause in your case really is hearing loss, and if so, treat it.

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