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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Hearing loss issues aren’t always solved by turning the volume up. Think about this: Lots of people are able to hear very soft sounds, but can’t hear conversations. That’s because hearing loss is frequently uneven. Certain frequencies are muted while you can hear others perfectly fine.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a mechanical issue in the ear. It might be a congenital structural problem or due to an ear infection or excessive wax buildup. Your root condition, in many cases, can be addressed 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 prevalent and caused by problems with the tiny hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. These hairs move when they sense sound and release chemical impulses to the auditory nerve, which transmits them to the brain for interpretation. When these delicate hairs in your inner ear are injured or destroyed, they do not ever re-grow. This is why the normal aging process is often the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Over the course of our lives, sensorineural hearing loss develops because we expose ourselves to loud noise, have underlying health conditions, and take certain medications.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Requesting that people talk louder will help some, but it won’t fix your hearing issues. Specific sounds, including consonant sounds, can become difficult to hear for individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss. Despite the fact that people around them are speaking clearly, someone with this condition may think that everyone is mumbling.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them hard to hear for somebody experiencing hearing loss. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is calculated in hertz (hz) and the higher pitch of consonants is what makes them more difficult for some people to hear. 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 people who have sensorineural hearing loss.

Because of this, simply speaking louder is not always helpful. It’s not going to help much when someone speaks louder if you don’t hear some of the letters in a word like “shift”.

How Can Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing Aids go in your ears helping sound reach your auditory system more directly and eliminating some of the environmental noise you would usually hear. Hearing aids also help you by boosting the frequencies you can’t hear and balancing that with the frequencies you can hear. This makes what you hear much more clear. Modern hearing aids can also block out background sound to make it easier to understand 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.