Why Can I Hear Soft Sounds But Can’t Understand Conversations?

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Hearing loss issues aren’t always solved by turning up the volume. Think about this: Many people can’t hear conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. That’s because hearing loss is frequently irregular. Specific frequencies are muted while you can hear others perfectly fine.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Conductive hearing loss happens when the ear has internal mechanical issues. It might be a congenital structural problem or because of an ear infection or excessive wax buildup. In most cases, we can treat the underlying condition to improve your hearing, and if necessary, recommend hearing aids to fill in for any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss happens when the little hairs in the inner ear, also known as cilia, are damaged, and this condition is more typical. When sound is perceived, it moves these hairs which deliver chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be passed to the brain for translation. These delicate hairs do not heal when damaged or destroyed. This is why the common aging process is frequently 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 conditions, and use certain medications.

Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Requesting that people talk louder will help some, but it won’t fix your hearing issues. Certain sounds, like consonant sounds, can be hard to hear for people who have sensorineural hearing loss. This might lead somebody who has hearing loss to the incorrect idea that people around them are mumbling when in fact, they are talking clearly.

When someone is dealing with hearing loss, the frequency of consonants typically makes them hard to make out. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is calculated in hertz (hz) and the higher pitch of consonants is what makes them more difficult for some people to hear. For instance, a short “o” registers at 250 to 1,000 Hz, depending on the voice of the person speaking. But consonants including “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. Because of damage to the inner ear, these higher pitches are hard to hear for individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss.

This is why just speaking louder doesn’t always help. It won’t help much when someone speaks louder if you don’t hear some of the letters in a word like “shift”.

How Can Using Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing Aids fit in your ears helping sound reach your auditory system more directly and get rid of some of the environmental sound you would typically hear. Hearing aids also help you by amplifying 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 also make it easier to hear speech by canceling some of the unwanted background noise.

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.