Why You Can’t Understand Conversation, But You Can Hear Soft Sounds

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always resolve hearing loss problems. Here’s something to consider: Many people are unable to understand conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. The reason for this is hearing loss frequently develops unevenly. You tend to lose certain frequencies but are able to hear others, and that can make voices sound muffled.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss develops when the ear has internal mechanical issues. It might be a result of too much buildup of earwax or due to an ear infection or a congenital structural problem. Your root condition, in many cases, can be managed by your hearing specialist and they can, if needed, advise hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing impairment.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the little hairs in the inner ear, also called cilia, are damaged, and this condition is more typical. When sound is sensed, it moves these hairs which deliver chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be passed to the brain for translation. These delicate hairs do not heal when damaged or destroyed. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is frequently a result of the natural 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 take certain medications.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

Asking people to speak up when they talk to you will help to some degree, but it won’t fix your hearing problems. Individuals who cope with sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty understanding certain sounds, including consonants in speech. This might cause somebody with hearing loss to the incorrect conclusion that people around them are mumbling when actually, they are speaking clearly.

The frequency of consonant sounds make them difficult to hear for somebody experiencing hearing loss. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and many consonants register in our ears at a higher pitch than other sounds. For example, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person speaking. Conversely, consonants like “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty processing these higher-pitched sounds due to the damage to their inner ears.

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 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 can hear in a balanced way. This makes what you hear much more clear. Modern hearing aids can also cancel 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.