A common question from patients pertains to being able to hear in crowded spaces. They report that they don’t seem to have any problem hearing people and understanding what they say when they are speaking to them one-on-one, or even in small groups. But when they find themselves in a large crowd they often find it very difficult to understand what the people speaking to them directly are saying, or even to hear their voices over the background noise. People who complain of this also often mention having trouble hearing the consonants “H,” “F,” and “S,” no longer being able to distinguish one from the other.
If these challenges sounds familiar to you, it is possible that you have a degree of hearing loss in the high-frequency range. When describing human speech, audiologists define the 3000 to 8000 Hertz range as high-frequency. This is the range that the S, F, and H sounds typically fall into. In a crowded situation there are many sounds across the frequency spectrum competing with one another. Much of the background noise – such as people dancing or walking – occurs at lower frequencies. Speech is layered on top of this in the higher frequency ranges. People with high-frequency hearing loss tend to perceive the lower frequencies – in this case, the noise – as sounding louder than the higher frequencies, which they are now having more trouble hearing.
High-frequency hearing loss is quite common. Some studies have found that as much as 18% of the population is affected. One of the possible causes for this condition is aging, but high-frequency hearing loss has in recent years been increasing in teenagers and younger adults as well, possibly as a result of being exposed to overly loud music, and suffering noise-induced hearing loss. There are other potential causes, including genetic factors, diabetes, exposure to toxic drugs such as chemotherapy agents, and other diseases.
If you are having trouble hearing in crowds and the reason turns out to be high-frequency hearing loss you’ll be glad to know that this can be treated. Modern hearing aids can be tuned to amplify certain frequencies while suppressing others. This makes it possible to adjust a hearing aid specifically for high-frequency hearing loss and better hearing in crowds.
Before we get too far into treatment options, it is critical that you have a proper diagnosis. To find out if high-frequency hearing loss is the root cause behind your difficulty hearing in crowds, call and make a first appointment. Our audiologist can perform a variety of tests to identify the underlying cause of the problem and recommend the best treatment options for your specific situation.