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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always remedy hearing loss issues. Here’s something to consider: Lots of people can’t understand conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. That’s because hearing loss is frequently uneven. Certain frequencies get lost while you can hear others without any problem.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more prevalent and caused by problems with the little hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. When sound is perceived, it moves these hairs which transmit chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be sent to the brain for translation. When these little hairs in your inner ear are damaged or killed, they don’t ever re-grow. This is why the natural aging process is frequently the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Things like exposure to loud noise, certain medications, and illnesses can also bring about sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Conductive hearing loss develops when the ear has internal mechanical issues. It may be because of excessive earwax buildup or due to an ear infection or a congenital structural problem. Your underlying condition, in many circumstances, can be addressed by your hearing specialist and they can, if needed, recommend hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing impairment.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

You might hear a little better if people talk louder to you, but it’s not going to completely manage your hearing loss issues. Particular sounds, like consonant sounds, can become hard to hear for people who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss. Despite the fact that people around them are speaking clearly, somebody with this condition may think that everyone is mumbling.

When someone is coping with hearing loss, the pitch of consonants often makes them difficult to distinguish. 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 talking. Conversely, consonants such as “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have a hard time processing these higher-pitched sounds due to the damage to their inner ears.

This is why just 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 speaks.

How Can Wearing Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing Aids fit inside your ears helping sound reach your auditory system more directly and get rid of some of the outside sound you would normally hear. Hearing aids also help you by amplifying the frequencies you’re unable to hear and balancing that with the frequencies you can hear. In this way, you get more clarity. Modern hearing aids can also cancel out background sound to make it easier to make out 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.