Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Hearing loss issues aren’t always solved by cranking the volume up. Here’s something to consider: Lots of people are able to hear very soft sounds, but can’t understand conversations. The reason for this is hearing loss frequently occurs unevenly. Specific frequencies are muted while you can hear others perfectly fine.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss develops when the ear has internal mechanical issues. It may be because of excessive buildup of earwax or caused by an ear infection or a congenital structural problem. Your underlying 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 is more common and caused by issues with the delicate hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. When sound is perceived, it moves these hairs which send 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 frequently caused by the natural process of aging. Things like exposure to loud noise, particular medications, and underlying health conditions can also bring about sensorineural hearing loss.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

You might hear a bit better if people talk louder to you, but it’s not going to completely manage your hearing loss problems. Individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty understanding specific sounds, including consonants in speech. Despite the fact that people around them are talking clearly, someone with this condition might believe that everyone is mumbling.

When someone is coping with hearing loss, the frequency of consonants often makes them difficult to make out. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and many consonants register in our ears at a higher pitch than other sounds. For instance, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person talking. But consonants including “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. Because of damage to the inner ear, these higher pitches are hard to hear for individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss.

This is why just speaking louder doesn’t always help. It won’t help much when someone speaks louder if you don’t understand some of the letters in a word like “shift”.

How do Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing aids have a component that fits into the ear, so sounds get to your auditory system without the interference you would typically hear in your environment. Also, the frequencies you can’t hear are boosted and mixed with the sounds you can hear in a balanced way. In this way, you get more clarity. Modern hearing aids can also cancel out background sound to make it easier to make out speech.

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