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Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Cranking up the volume doesn’t always remedy hearing loss problems. Think about this: Lots of people are unable to hear conversations even though they are able to hear soft sounds. The reason for this is hearing loss often occurs unevenly. Specific frequencies get lost while you can hear others perfectly fine.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive hearing loss is triggered by a mechanical problem in the ear. It may be because of too much buildup of earwax or due to an ear infection or a congenital structural problem. In many cases, hearing specialists can treat the underlying condition to enhance your hearing, and if necessary, recommend hearing aids to fill in for any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the tiny hairs in the inner ear, also called cilia, are damaged, and this condition is more common. When sound is perceived, it moves these hairs which send chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be passed to the brain for translation. When these delicate hairs in your inner ear are damaged or destroyed, they don’t ever re-grow. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is often caused by the normal process of aging. 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.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

Requesting that people talk louder will help to some extent, but it won’t fix your hearing problems. Specific sounds, including consonant sounds, can be difficult to hear for people who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss. Despite the fact that people around them are speaking clearly, somebody with this condition may think that people are mumbling.

The pitch of consonant sounds make them difficult to hear for someone experiencing hearing loss. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is calculated in hertz (hz) and the higher pitch of consonants is what makes them harder for some people to hear. 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. People with sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty processing these higher-pitched sounds because of the damage to their inner ears.

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

How Can Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing aids have a component that goes in the ear, so sounds reach your auditory system without the interference you would typically hear in your environment. Hearing aids also help you by boosting the frequencies you can’t hear and balancing that with the frequencies you can hear. In this way, you get more clarity. Modern hearing aids can also block out background sound to make it easier to make out speech.

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