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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Cranking up the volume doesn’t always remedy hearing loss issues. Here’s something to think about: Lots of people can’t understand conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. That’s because hearing loss is often uneven. Specific frequencies are muted while you can hear others without any problem.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Conductive hearing loss develops when the ear has internal mechanical problems. It could be a congenital structural issue or because 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, recommend hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss happens when the tiny hairs in the inner ear, also known as cilia, are harmed, and this condition is more typical. 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 fragile hairs in your inner ear are injured or destroyed, they don’t ever re-grow. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is often a result of the natural process of aging. Things like exposure to loud noise, specific medications, and underlying health conditions can also lead to sensorineural hearing loss.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

You may hear a little better if people talk louder to you, but it isn’t going to comprehensively deal with your hearing loss issues. Specific sounds, like consonant sounds, can become difficult to hear for people who have sensorineural hearing loss. Although people around them are talking clearly, somebody with this condition might think that people are mumbling.

The frequency of consonant sounds make them hard to hear for someone dealing with hearing loss. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and the majority of consonants register in our ears at a higher pitch than other sounds. For example, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person talking. But consonants like “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. Due to damage to the inner ear, these higher pitches are difficult to hear for individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss.

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

How do Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing Aids go inside your ears helping sound get into your auditory system more directly and get rid of some of the environmental sound you would typically hear. Hearing aids also help you by amplifying the frequencies you’re unable to hear and balancing that with the frequencies you are able to hear. In this way, you get 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.