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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Cranking up the volume doesn’t always solve hearing loss issues. Think about this: Many people are unable to hear conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. The reason for this is hearing loss frequently develops unevenly. Specific frequencies get lost while you can hear others perfectly fine.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss is a result of a mechanical issue in the ear. It could be a result of too much earwax buildup or due to an ear infection or a congenital structural problem. Your root condition, in many circumstances, can be managed by your hearing specialist and they can, if needed, recommend hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing impairment.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more prevalent and caused by issues with the little hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. When sound is perceived, it vibrates these hairs which transmit chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be passed to the brain for translation. When these tiny hairs in your inner ear are injured or killed, they do not ever re-grow. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is commonly a result of the natural process of aging. Over the course of our lives, sensorineural hearing loss increases because we expose ourselves to loud noise, have underlying health issues, and use certain medications.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

Asking people to talk louder will help to some degree, but it won’t solve your hearing issues. Specific sounds, including consonant sounds, can become hard to hear for individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss. This could cause someone with hearing loss to the incorrect conclusion that those around them are mumbling when in fact, they’re talking clearly.

When someone is coping with hearing loss, the frequency of consonants typically makes them difficult to distinguish. 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. But consonants including “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty processing these higher-pitched sounds due to the damage to their inner ears.

This is why just speaking louder doesn’t always help. If you can’t hear some of the letters in a word like “shift,” it won’t make much difference how loudly the other person speaks.

How Can Using Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing aids come with a component that goes in the ear, so sounds reach your auditory system without the interference you would typically hear in your environment. Also, the frequencies you are unable to hear are amplified and mixed with the sounds you can hear in a balanced way. This makes what you hear a lot more clear. 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.