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 solve hearing loss issues. Consider this: Many people can’t understand conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. The reason for this is hearing loss often develops unevenly. Certain frequencies get lost while you can hear others perfectly fine.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Conductive hearing loss occurs when the ear has internal mechanical problems. It might be a congenital structural problem or because of an ear infection or excessive wax buildup. Your root condition, in many circumstances, can be addressed by your hearing specialist and they can, if needed, recommend hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing impairment.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss happens when the little hairs in the inner ear, also known as cilia, are harmed, and this condition is more common. These hairs vibrate when they sense sound and release chemical messages to the auditory nerve, which passes them to the brain for translation. These little hairs do not heal when damaged or destroyed. This is why the natural aging process is often the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Things like exposure to loud noise, specific medications, and underlying health conditions can also bring about sensorineural hearing loss.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Asking people to talk louder will help some, but it won’t fix your hearing problems. People with sensorineural hearing loss have a difficult time making out specific sounds, like consonants in speech. Even though people around them are talking clearly, someone with this condition might think that everyone is mumbling.

The frequency of consonant sounds make them hard to hear for someone dealing with hearing loss. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and most 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. Conversely, consonants such as “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. People with sensorineural hearing loss have a hard time processing these higher-pitched sounds due to 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 understand some of the letters in a word like “shift”.

How Can Using Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing Aids fit inside your ears helping sound reach your auditory system more directly and eliminating some of the outside 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. This makes what you hear much more clear. Modern hearing aids also make it easier to hear speech by canceling 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.

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    Dr. Laura Padham, Audiologist

    Ocean Gate, NJ

    143 W Barnegat Avenue
    Ocean Gate, NJ 08740

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