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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always solve hearing loss problems. Here’s something to consider: Lots of people are unable to understand conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. The reason for this is hearing loss frequently occurs unevenly. You tend to lose specific frequencies but are able to hear others, and that can make speech sound garbled.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the little hairs in the inner ear, also known as cilia, are harmed, and this condition is more typical. These hairs vibrate when they sense sound and send out chemical messages to the auditory nerve, which passes them to the brain for translation. When these tiny hairs in your inner ear are damaged or destroyed, they do not ever re-grow. This is why the normal aging process is often the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Things like exposure to loud noise, particular medications, and illnesses can also lead to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Conductive hearing loss develops when the ear has internal mechanical problems. It might be a congenital structural issue or a result of an ear infection or excessive wax accumulation. Your root condition, in many cases, can be managed by your hearing specialist and they can, if necessary, advise hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing impairment.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

Requesting that people speak up when they talk to you will help to some extent, but it won’t solve your hearing issues. Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have a difficult time hearing specific sounds, like consonants in speech. Despite the fact that people around them are talking clearly, someone with this condition might think that everyone is mumbling.

When somebody is dealing with hearing loss, the frequency of consonants typically 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. Depending on the voice of the person speaking, a short “o”, for example, will register between 250 and 1,000 hertz. Conversely, consonants like “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. Due to 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’s not going to help much when someone talks louder if you don’t hear 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 normally hear in your environment. Also, the frequencies you are unable to hear are boosted and mixed with the sounds you can hear in a balanced way. In this way, you attain more clarity. Modern hearing aids can also cancel out background noise 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.