Why Can I Hear Soft Sounds But Can’t Understand Conversations?

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Cranking up the volume doesn’t always solve hearing loss problems. Consider this: Many people can’t understand conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. The reason for this is hearing loss often occurs unevenly. Certain frequencies get lost while you can hear others perfectly fine.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a mechanical issue in the ear. It could be a result of too much earwax buildup or due to an ear infection or a congenital structural issue. In most cases, hearing specialists can manage the root condition to enhance your hearing, and if necessary, recommend hearing aids to make up for any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss happens when the little hairs in the inner ear, also known as cilia, are harmed, and this condition is more prevalent. When sound is perceived, it moves these hairs which transmit chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be passed to the brain for interpretation. These tiny hairs do not heal when damaged or destroyed. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is commonly caused by 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 issues, and take certain medications.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

You might hear a little better if people talk louder to you, but it’s not going to completely address your hearing loss issues. Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have trouble making out certain sounds, including consonants in speech. This might cause someone with hearing loss to the mistaken idea that those around them are mumbling when actually, they are talking clearly.

When someone is coping with hearing loss, the frequency of consonants typically makes them difficult to distinguish. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is measured in hertz (hz) and the higher pitch of consonants is what makes them harder for some people to hear. For instance, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person speaking. But consonants including “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. Due to damage to the inner ear, these higher pitches are difficult to hear for people who have sensorineural hearing loss.

Because of this, simply speaking 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 Hearing Aids Help?

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. Also, the frequencies you are unable to hear are amplified and mixed with the sounds you can hear in a balanced way. This makes what you hear much more clear. Modern hearing aids also make it easier to hear speech by blocking some of the unwanted background noise.

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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.