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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Hearing loss issues aren’t always solved by cranking the volume up. Consider this: Lots of people can’t understand conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. That’s because hearing loss is often irregular. Certain frequencies get lost while you can hear others without any problem.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss develops when the ear has internal mechanical issues. 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 managed by your hearing specialist and they can, if needed, advise hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss develops when the tiny hairs in the inner ear, also called cilia, are damaged, and this condition is more typical. These hairs move when they sense sound and send out chemical messages to the auditory nerve, which transmits them to the brain for interpretation. These delicate hairs do not regenerate when damaged or destroyed. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is usually caused by the normal process of aging. Over the course of our lives, sensorineural hearing loss increases because we expose ourselves to loud noise, have underlying health conditions, and use certain medications.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

You might hear a bit better if people speak louder to you, but it isn’t going to completely manage your hearing loss issues. People with sensorineural hearing loss have trouble hearing specific sounds, including consonants in speech. This could lead somebody who has hearing loss to the incorrect idea that people around them are mumbling when actually, they are speaking clearly.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them hard to hear for somebody experiencing 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 instance, will register between 250 and 1,000 hertz. But consonants like “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. Because of damage to the inner ear, these higher pitches are difficult to hear for people who have sensorineural hearing loss.

This is why simply speaking louder doesn’t always help. If you can’t hear 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 come with a component that goes in the ear, so sounds reach your auditory system without the interference you would typically hear in your environment. Hearing aids also help you by amplifying the frequencies you’re unable to hear and balancing that with the frequencies you can hear. In this way, you attain more clarity. Modern hearing aids also make it easier to understand speech by blocking some of the unwanted background noise.