A common question from patients pertains to the ability to hear in crowded rooms. When they are talking to people one-on-one, or in small groups of people there is no problem, and they seem to hear just fine. But when they find themselves in a large crowd they often find it very difficult to understand what the people speaking to them directly are saying, or even to hear their voices over the background noise. People who complain of this also often mention having trouble hearing the consonants “F,” “S,” and “H,” no longer being able to distinguish one from the other.

If these challenges sounds familiar to you, it is possible that you have a degree of hearing loss in the high-frequency range. Human speech, especially the consonants “S,” “F,” and “H,” fall into the range of sounds between 3000 and 8000 Hertz, which scientists define as “high-frequency.” In a crowd, what you hear is a mixture of frequencies, with the high frequencies of human speech “competing” with lower-frequency sounds such as music or the noise of people walking or dancing. Individuals with high-frequency hearing loss will report that the low-frequency sounds are much louder to them. To them it is as if the ‘background noise’ has been amplified relative to the human speech they are trying to focus on.

High-frequency hearing loss is quite common. Some studies have found that as much as 18% of the population is affected. The most common cause of this is aging, but in recent years audiologists have found increasing numbers of teenagers and young adults suffering from it, possibly as a result of listening to overly loud music. Other factors that can cause hearing loss include genetics, exposure to toxic drugs (including some chemotherapy agents), diabetes, and other diseases.

If you are having trouble hearing in crowds and the reason turns out to be high-frequency hearing loss you’ll be glad to know that this can be treated. Hearing aids can be adjusted to amplify the higher frequencies and suppress lower frequencies, with the result that you can hear voices better in crowded rooms.

The first step is to visit one of our specialists, and make sure that the problem is caused by a loss of hearing. Our audiologist can perform a variety of tests to identify the underlying cause of the problem and recommend the best treatment options for your specific situation.