Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always remedy hearing loss issues. Consider this: Lots of people are able to hear very soft sounds, but can’t make out conversations. That’s because hearing loss is often irregular. You generally lose particular frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make speech sound garbled.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more prevalent and caused by issues with the little hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. These hairs vibrate when they sense sound and release chemical impulses to the auditory nerve, which transmits them to the brain for translation. These tiny hairs do not heal when damaged or destroyed. This is why the common 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 take certain medications.
  • Conductive hearing loss is a result of a mechanical issue in the ear. It might be a result of too much buildup of earwax or caused by an ear infection or a congenital structural problem. Your underlying condition, in many circumstances, can be managed by your hearing specialist and they can, if necessary, advise hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing impairment.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

You might hear a little better if people speak louder to you, but it isn’t going to completely address your hearing loss issues. Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have trouble understanding certain sounds, like consonants in speech. Although people around them are speaking clearly, somebody with this condition might believe that everyone is mumbling.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them hard to hear for someone experiencing hearing loss. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is measured 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 talking, a short “o”, for instance, will register between 250 and 1,000 hertz. But consonants including “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. 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 talking louder is not always helpful. 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 Can Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing aids come with a component that goes in the ear, so sounds reach your auditory system without the interference you would normally hear in your environment. Also, the frequencies you can’t hear are boosted and mixed with the sounds you can hear in a balanced way. In this way, you get more clarity. Modern hearing aids also make it easier to hear speech by canceling some of the unwanted background noise.

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