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 solved by cranking up the volume. Here’s something to think about: Many people are capable of hearing very soft sounds, but can’t make out conversations. That’s because hearing loss is frequently uneven. You generally lose particular frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make speech sound muffled.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more prevalent and caused by issues with the tiny hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. When sound is sensed, it vibrates these hairs which send chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be passed to the brain for interpretation. When these tiny hairs in your inner ear are injured or destroyed, they do not ever re-grow. This is why the ordinary aging process is often the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Things like exposure to loud noise, certain medications, and underlying health conditions can also bring about sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Conductive hearing loss is a result of a mechanical problem in the ear. It could be a congenital structural issue or a result of an ear infection or excessive wax accumulation. Your root condition, in many cases, can be managed by your hearing specialist and they can, if necessary, advise hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing loss.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Requesting that people speak up when they talk to you will help to some degree, but it won’t fix your hearing problems. People who cope with sensorineural hearing loss have trouble hearing specific sounds, like consonants in speech. Although people around them are talking clearly, somebody with this condition may believe that people are mumbling.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them difficult to hear for someone dealing with hearing loss. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is calculated in hertz (hz) and the higher pitch of consonants is what makes them more difficult for some people to hear. Depending on the voice of the person talking, a short “o”, for example, will register between 250 and 1,000 hertz. But consonants including “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. 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 speaks 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 come with a component that fits into the ear, so sounds reach your auditory system without the interference you would normally hear in your environment. Hearing aids also help you by boosting the frequencies you can’t 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.

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.


    Find out how we can help!

    Call or Text Us