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: Many people are able to hear really soft sounds, but can’t make out conversations. That’s because hearing loss is frequently uneven. You often lose particular frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make speech sound muffled.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss is a result of a mechanical issue in the ear. It could be a congenital structural issue or because of an ear infection or excessive wax buildup. In most circumstances, hearing specialists can treat the root condition to enhance your hearing, and if required, recommend hearing aids to fill in for any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more common and caused by issues with the fragile hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. These hairs move when they sense sound and release chemical messages to the auditory nerve, which passes them to the brain for translation. When these little hairs in your inner ear are injured or killed, they don’t regenerate. This is why the normal aging process is often the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Over the course of our lives, sensorineural hearing loss increases because we expose ourselves to loud noise, have underlying health problems, and use certain medications.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

You might hear a little better if people talk louder to you, but it’s not going to completely deal with your hearing loss problems. People with sensorineural hearing loss have a difficult time understanding certain sounds, like consonants in speech. This may lead someone with hearing loss to the mistaken idea that people around them are mumbling when in fact, they are speaking clearly.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them difficult to hear for someone dealing with hearing loss. 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 instance, will register between 250 and 1,000 hertz. Conversely, consonants such as “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 people who have sensorineural hearing loss.

This is why simply speaking louder doesn’t always help. 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 talks.

How do Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing aids have a component that goes in the ear, so sounds get to your auditory system without the interference you would typically hear in your environment. Hearing aids also help you by boosting the frequencies you’re unable to hear and balancing that with the frequencies you can hear. This makes what you hear a lot more clear. Modern hearing aids also make it easier to hear speech by blocking some of the unwanted background noise.

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