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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Hearing loss issues aren’t always resolved by cranking the volume up. Here’s something to think about: Many people are capable of hearing really soft sounds, but can’t make out conversations. That’s because hearing loss is often irregular. You generally lose certain frequencies but are able to hear others, and that can make speech sound muffled.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more common and caused by problems with the little hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. These hairs vibrate when they detect sound and release chemical messages to the auditory nerve, which passes them to the brain for translation. When these fragile hairs in your inner ear are injured or killed, they don’t regenerate. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is frequently a result of the natural process of aging. Things like exposure to loud noise, particular medications, and underlying health conditions can also bring about sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Conductive hearing loss is a result of a mechanical problem in the ear. It may be a result of excessive earwax buildup or caused by an ear infection or a congenital structural issue. In many circumstances, hearing specialists can manage the root condition to enhance your hearing, and if necessary, recommend hearing aids to fill in for any remaining hearing loss.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

You may hear a bit better if people talk louder to you, but it’s not going to comprehensively address your hearing loss issues. Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have trouble understanding specific sounds, including consonants in speech. Despite the fact that people around them are speaking clearly, somebody with this condition may believe that everyone is mumbling.

When someone is coping with hearing loss, the frequency of consonants often makes them hard to make out. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and most consonants register in our ears at a higher pitch than other sounds. Depending on the voice of the person talking, a short “o”, for example, will register between 250 and 1,000 hertz. 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.

Because of this, simply speaking louder is not always helpful. If you can’t understand 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 go in your ears helping sound reach your auditory system more directly and eliminating some of the outside noise you would typically hear. Also, the frequencies you are unable to hear are amplified and mixed with the sounds you are able to hear in a balanced way. In this way, you attain more clarity. Modern hearing aids can also block out background noise to make it easier to make out speech.