People often tell me they feel their hearing is fine, but that they have trouble understanding other people in noisy environments such as restaurants or family gatherings. This is typically the first sign of hearing loss. We regularly see high-frequency hearing loss as people age. One of the first symptoms of high-frequency hearing loss is noticing that you can hear and understand people in quiet spaces, but cannot understand the same people in a noisy environment.
Hearing loss is hearing loss whether or not you are surrounded by noise or silence — there is no difference. What is important is how much you understand what you hear. When people don’t understand as much in the presence of noise in a group setting, they feel left out. The fun of participating in groups declines and they stop doing the social activities they love. Ultimately, hearing loss affects lifestyle.
Even though high frequency hearing loss may be mild, it is still worth paying attention to. Low frequency sounds have larger sound waves, and therefore have more energy and sounds louder than the voices you want to hear. Most of the volume in speech is produced by low frequency vowels while the intelligence in speech is produced by high frequency consonants.
This means that because you hear low frequency sounds well, you can still hear people talking with no problem. However, because you cannot hear the high frequency sounds as well, you don’t hear the consonants that carry most of the meaning of speech. When you suffer a high frequency hearing loss, even if it is just a mild loss, understanding speech in the presence of background noise becomes more difficult.
Wearing open fit hearing aids that do not occlude the ear canal and boost the volume of higher frequencies will improve the voice to noise ratio in noisy situations.
I love my open fit Starkey Muse hearing aids in noisy situations. Sometimes I find myself hearing things that people around me with normal hearing are struggling to understand. Occasionally, when I am not wearing my hearing aids at a family gathering, one of my grandchildren will comment when I do not hear/understand them. Hearing my grandchildren is the biggest reason for me to use my hearing aids, even if my hearing loss is mild.
Cathy Robinson BC-HIS
Board Certified in Hearing Instruments Sciences
Registered Hearing Aid Practitioner