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 resolve hearing loss problems. Here’s something to think about: Many people are unable to understand conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. The reason for this is hearing loss often occurs unevenly. Certain frequencies get lost while you can hear others perfectly fine.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Sensorineural hearing loss happens when the little hairs in the inner ear, also called cilia, are damaged, and this condition is more common. When sound is perceived, it moves these hairs which transmit chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be sent to the brain for translation. These tiny hairs do not regenerate when damaged or destroyed. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is often caused by the natural process of aging. Things like exposure to loud noise, particular medications, and underlying health conditions can also lead to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Conductive hearing loss occurs when the ear has internal mechanical issues. It could be a congenital structural issue or a result of an ear infection or excessive wax accumulation. In many circumstances, hearing specialists can manage the underlying condition to enhance your hearing, and if necessary, recommend hearing aids to fill in for any remaining hearing loss.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

You might hear a little better if people speak louder to you, but it isn’t going to comprehensively deal with your hearing loss problems. Specific sounds, such as consonant sounds, can be hard to hear for individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss. Even though people around them are speaking clearly, somebody with this condition may believe that everyone is mumbling.

When someone is coping with hearing loss, the frequency of consonants often makes them hard to distinguish. 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 instance, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person speaking. But consonants including “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 understand some of the letters in a word like “shift,” it won’t make much difference how loudly the other person talks.

How Can Using Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing Aids go in your ears helping sound reach your auditory system more directly and eliminating some of the environmental noise you would typically hear. Also, the frequencies you can’t hear are amplified and mixed with the sounds you are able to hear in a balanced way. In this way, you get more clarity. Modern hearing aids also make it easier to hear 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.