Why You Can’t Make Out Conversation, But You Can Hear Soft Sounds

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always remedy hearing loss problems. Consider this: Many people are capable of hearing really soft sounds, but can’t make out conversations. That’s because hearing loss is often irregular. You tend to lose specific frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make voices sound muffled.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the tiny hairs in the inner ear, also known as cilia, are damaged, and this condition is more common. These hairs move when they sense sound and send out chemical messages to the auditory nerve, which passes them to the brain for interpretation. These little hairs do not heal when damaged or destroyed. This is why the natural aging process is frequently 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 problems, and use certain medications.
  • Conductive hearing loss is a result of a mechanical issue in the ear. It could be a result of too much earwax buildup or caused by an ear infection or a congenital structural problem. Your root condition, in many circumstances, can be addressed by your hearing specialist and they can, if needed, recommend hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing impairment.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Asking people to talk louder will help to some extent, but it won’t solve your hearing problems. Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have trouble hearing certain sounds, including consonants in speech. This might lead somebody who has hearing loss to the incorrect idea that those around them are mumbling when actually, they are talking clearly.

The frequency of consonant sounds make them difficult to hear for somebody dealing with hearing loss. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and most consonants register in our ears at a higher pitch than other sounds. Depending on the voice of the person talking, a short “o”, for instance, will register between 250 and 1,000 hertz. 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.

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

How Can Wearing Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing Aids go in your ears helping sound get into your auditory system more directly and get rid of some of the environmental sound you would typically hear. Also, the frequencies you are unable to 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 can also block out background noise to make it easier to understand speech.