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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Turning up the volume doesn’t always solve hearing loss problems. Consider this: Lots of people are able to hear very soft sounds, but can’t hear conversations. The reason for this is hearing loss frequently occurs unevenly. You tend to lose specific frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make speech sound muffled.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more prevalent and caused by issues with the delicate hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. These hairs vibrate when they sense sound and send out chemical messages to the auditory nerve, which passes them to the brain for interpretation. These delicate hairs do not regenerate when damaged or destroyed. This is why the ordinary aging process is frequently the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Things like exposure to loud noise, particular medications, and underlying health conditions can also bring about sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a mechanical problem in the ear. It might be because of excessive buildup of earwax or caused by an ear infection or a congenital structural issue. In many cases, hearing specialists can treat the root condition to improve your hearing, and if required, recommend hearing aids to make up for any remaining 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 completely address your hearing loss challenges. Specific sounds, including consonant sounds, can be hard to hear for individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss. Even though people around them are speaking clearly, somebody with this condition may believe that people are mumbling.

The frequency of consonant sounds make them difficult to hear for someone dealing with hearing loss. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and many 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. Conversely, consonants such as “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. Individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have a hard time processing these higher-pitched sounds due to the damage to their inner ears.

This is why just speaking louder doesn’t always help. It’s not going to help much when someone talks louder if you don’t understand some of the letters in a word like “shift”.

How do Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing Aids go inside your ears helping sound reach your auditory system more directly and eliminating some of the environmental sound you would usually hear. Also, the frequencies you can’t hear are boosted and mixed with the sounds you can hear in a balanced way. 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.

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.