Why You Can’t Make Out Conversation, But You Can Hear Soft Sounds

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always remedy hearing loss problems. Here’s something to consider: Lots of people are capable of hearing very soft sounds, but can’t make out conversations. The reason for this is hearing loss often develops unevenly. You often lose certain frequencies but are able to hear others, and that can make voices sound muffled.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Sensorineural hearing loss happens when the little hairs in the inner ear, also known as cilia, are harmed, and this condition is more typical. These hairs move when they sense sound and send out chemical impulses to the auditory nerve, which transmits them to the brain for translation. When these delicate hairs in your inner ear are injured or killed, they do not ever re-grow. This is why the ordinary aging process is often the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Over the course of our lives, sensorineural hearing loss increases because we expose ourselves to loud noise, have underlying health issues, and take certain medications.
  • Conductive hearing loss develops when the ear has internal mechanical issues. It may be a result of too much buildup of earwax or caused by an ear infection or a congenital structural issue. In many 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.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Requesting that people talk louder will help some, but it won’t solve your hearing issues. Certain sounds, including consonant sounds, can become difficult to hear for individuals who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss. Even though people around them are talking clearly, somebody with this condition may believe that people are mumbling.

When somebody is coping with hearing loss, the frequency of consonants often makes them hard to distinguish. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is measured 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 talking. Conversely, consonants like “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.

This is why just speaking louder doesn’t always help. 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 do Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing Aids go in your ears helping sound reach your auditory system more directly and get rid of some of the environmental noise you would typically hear. Also, the frequencies you are unable to hear are boosted and mixed with the sounds you are able to hear in a balanced way. In this way, you attain more clarity. Modern hearing aids can also block out background noise to make it easier to understand 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.