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

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Cranking up the volume doesn’t always remedy hearing loss issues. Here’s something to think about: Lots of people are able to hear very soft sounds, but can’t make out conversations. That’s because hearing loss is often irregular. You tend to lose certain frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make speech sound muffled.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the little hairs in the inner ear, also known as cilia, are damaged, and this condition is more typical. These hairs vibrate when they sense sound and release chemical impulses to the auditory nerve, which transmits them to the brain for translation. When these tiny hairs in your inner ear are damaged or killed, they don’t ever re-grow. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is usually a result of the natural process of aging. Things like exposure to loud noise, particular medications, and illnesses can also lead to sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Conductive hearing loss happens when the ear has internal mechanical problems. It may be a result of too much earwax buildup or due to an ear infection or a congenital structural problem. In most circumstances, hearing specialists can treat the root condition to enhance your hearing, and if required, recommend hearing aids to fill in for any remaining hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

Requesting that people talk louder will help some, but it won’t fix your hearing problems. People who cope with sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty hearing specific sounds, including consonants in speech. This may lead someone with hearing loss to the incorrect idea that people around them are mumbling when actually, they are talking clearly.

When somebody is dealing with hearing loss, the frequency of consonants typically makes them difficult to distinguish. 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. But consonants including “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. People with sensorineural hearing loss have a hard time 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 understand some of the letters in a word like “shift,” it won’t make much difference how loudly the other person speaks.

How Can Wearing Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing Aids go in your ears helping sound get into your auditory system more directly and eliminating some of the outside noise you would typically hear. Also, the frequencies you can’t hear are boosted and mixed with the sounds you can hear in a balanced way. In this way, you get more clarity. Modern hearing aids also make it easier to hear speech by blocking 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.