Hearing Health Blog

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Hearing loss issues aren’t always resolved by cranking the volume up. Consider this: Many people are able to hear really soft sounds, but can’t make out conversations. That’s because hearing loss is often irregular. You tend to lose particular frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make voices sound garbled.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss happens when the ear has internal mechanical problems. It might be a congenital structural issue or due to an ear infection or excessive wax buildup. Your root condition, in many circumstances, can be managed by your hearing specialist and they can, if necessary, advise hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more common and caused by issues with the fragile hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. These hairs move when they sense sound and send out chemical messages to the auditory nerve, which passes them to the brain for interpretation. When these delicate hairs in your inner ear are damaged or destroyed, they don’t ever re-grow. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is commonly a result of the natural process of aging. Things like exposure to loud noise, particular medications, and underlying health conditions can also bring about sensorineural hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

Requesting that people speak up when they talk to you will help to some degree, but it won’t solve your hearing issues. People with sensorineural hearing loss have a difficult time understanding specific sounds, like consonants in speech. Although people around them are speaking clearly, somebody with this condition may believe that everyone is mumbling.

The frequency of consonant sounds make them difficult to hear for somebody experiencing hearing loss. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and the majority of consonants register in our ears at a higher pitch than other sounds. For instance, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person talking. Conversely, consonants such as “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have a hard time processing these higher-pitched sounds because of the damage to their inner ears.

Because of this, simply talking louder is not always helpful. It won’t help much when someone talks 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 have a component that fits into the ear, so sounds reach your auditory system without the interference you would normally 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 attain more clarity. Modern hearing aids can also cancel out background sound to make it easier to make out speech.

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