Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always remedy hearing loss issues. Here’s something to consider: Many people are able to hear very soft sounds, but can’t make out conversations. The reason for this is hearing loss often occurs unevenly. You tend to lose specific frequencies but are able to hear others, and that can make voices sound garbled.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Conductive hearing loss is triggered by a mechanical problem in the ear. It could be a congenital structural issue or due to an ear infection or excessive wax accumulation. In many cases, hearing specialists can treat the underlying condition to enhance your hearing, and if necessary, recommend hearing aids to make up for any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more prevalent and caused by problems with the fragile hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. When sound is perceived, it vibrates these hairs which deliver 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 don’t ever re-grow. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is commonly caused by 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 take certain medications.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

You may hear a little better if people speak louder to you, but it isn’t going to comprehensively address your hearing loss challenges. People who cope with sensorineural hearing loss have trouble making out specific sounds, like consonants in speech. This may lead somebody with hearing loss to the mistaken conclusion that people around them are mumbling when actually, they’re talking clearly.

When somebody is dealing with hearing loss, the pitch of consonants often makes them hard to distinguish. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and many consonants register in our ears at a higher pitch than other sounds. For instance, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person speaking. Conversely, consonants such as “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. Because of damage to the inner ear, these higher pitches are hard to hear for people who have sensorineural hearing loss.

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 Wearing Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing aids come with 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 much more clear. Modern hearing aids can also cancel out background noise to make it easier to make out speech.

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