Why Can I Hear Soft Sounds But Can’t Make Out Conversations?

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Hearing loss issues aren’t always resolved by turning the volume up. Consider this: Lots of people are unable to understand conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. That’s because hearing loss is often irregular. You generally lose particular frequencies but are able to hear others, and that can make speech sound muffled.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more common and caused by problems with the fragile hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. When sound is perceived, it moves these hairs which transmit chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be sent to the brain for interpretation. When these tiny hairs in your inner ear are damaged or destroyed, they do not ever re-grow. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is frequently 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 problems, and take certain medications.
  • Conductive hearing loss is a result of a mechanical issue in the ear. It might be a congenital structural problem or because of an ear infection or excessive wax accumulation. In most cases, hearing specialists can treat the root condition to improve your hearing, and if necessary, recommend hearing aids to make up for any remaining hearing loss.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

You might hear a bit better if people speak louder to you, but it’s not going to comprehensively manage your hearing loss issues. Particular sounds, like consonant sounds, can become difficult to hear for individuals who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss. Even though people around them are talking clearly, somebody with this condition may believe that everyone is mumbling.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them difficult to hear for somebody 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. 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. People with sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty processing these higher-pitched sounds due to the damage to their inner ears.

Because of this, simply talking louder is not always helpful. 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 Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing Aids go inside your ears helping sound reach your auditory system more directly and get rid of some of the environmental noise you would typically hear. Also, the frequencies you can’t hear are boosted and mixed with the sounds you are able to hear in a balanced way. This makes what you hear much more clear. Modern hearing aids can also block 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.