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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Hearing loss problems aren’t always resolved by cranking up the volume. Think about this: Many people can’t understand conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. The reason for this is hearing loss frequently occurs unevenly. You tend to lose certain frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make voices sound muffled.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss is triggered by a mechanical issue in the ear. It could be a congenital structural problem or because of an ear infection or excessive wax buildup. In most cases, hearing specialists can manage the underlying condition to improve your hearing, and if necessary, recommend hearing aids to make up for any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more prevalent and caused by problems with the tiny hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. When sound is sensed, it vibrates these hairs which deliver chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be passed to the brain for translation. When these fragile hairs in your inner ear are damaged or destroyed, they do not regenerate. This is why the ordinary aging process is frequently the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Over the course of our lives, sensorineural hearing loss develops because we expose ourselves to loud noise, have underlying health issues, and take certain medications.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

Asking people to talk louder will help to some degree, but it won’t fix your hearing issues. Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty hearing certain sounds, like consonants in speech. This could lead somebody who has hearing loss to the mistaken conclusion that people around them are mumbling when in fact, they are speaking clearly.

When somebody is coping with hearing loss, the frequency of consonants often makes them difficult to make out. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is measured in hertz (hz) and the higher pitch of consonants is what makes them more difficult for some people to hear. For example, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person speaking. But consonants like “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. Individuals 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. It’s not going to help much when someone talks louder if you don’t hear some of the letters in a word like “shift”.

How Can Using Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing aids come with a component that goes in the ear, so sounds get to 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 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 canceling some of the unwanted background noise.

Questions? Talk To Us.