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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

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

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss occurs when the ear has internal mechanical issues. It might be a congenital structural issue or because of an ear infection or excessive wax accumulation. Your root condition, in many circumstances, can be addressed by your hearing specialist and they can, if necessary, recommend hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing impairment.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss happens when the tiny hairs in the inner ear, also called cilia, are harmed, and this condition is more typical. These hairs move when they detect sound and release chemical impulses to the auditory nerve, which transmits them to the brain for interpretation. These fragile hairs do not heal when damaged or destroyed. This is why the ordinary 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 take certain medications.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

Requesting that people talk louder will help to some extent, but it won’t fix your hearing problems. Specific sounds, like consonant sounds, can be difficult to hear for people who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss. This may cause somebody who has hearing loss to the incorrect conclusion that people around them are mumbling when actually, they are speaking clearly.

When somebody is coping with hearing loss, the pitch of consonants typically makes them hard to make out. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and most 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 speaking. 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 talks.

How Can Wearing Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing aids have a component that goes in the ear, so sounds reach your auditory system without the interference you would normally hear in your environment. 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 can also block out background sound to make it easier to understand speech.