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Hearing Blog

I can hear ... I just can't understand

November 25, 2020

During our initial consultation with patients we are often told; “I can hear just fine... I just don’t understand what people say to me.”   Some people will actually ask how is it possible that sounds are loud enough but at the same time dull.  

While our ears are very complex...they still must use the brain to make sense of the signals that are being gathered.  The sound waves move and stimulate nerves in the inner ear and then the brain must translate the signal into meaningful words.  The brain is actually receiving signals from the inner ear that is a damaged or somewhat scattered signal.  

There are many types of hearing loss.  One of the most prevalent types of hearing loss is a “sloping high frequency hearing loss.”  With a hearing loss in primarily the high frequencies; a person will experience difficulty in understanding speech.  It may be loud enough...just not clear.  Others may sound like they are mumbling.  This is because the high frequencies provide the ‘consonants’ of the alphabet.   This type of hearing loss causes the patient to lose the ability hear these important letters and sounds at the proper intensity.   This decrease then causes the inability to distinguish between the sounds of similar words.   For instance; ‘Shoe’ or ‘Chew.’   If there is no sentence involved.. it may be very difficult for a person to pick out the rest of the sounds of ‘Sh’ or ‘Ch.’

When you have a predominately high frequency hearing loss you are missing the letters or sounds where about 80% of your speech understanding comes from.   Take a paragraph out of the paper and black out about 80% of the letters that are consonants.  Then go back and try and read it out loud...just as it looks.  That is how your brain is trying to put it together.  Very you are only hearing about 20 percent of the words as they actually sound.   With this type of loss; it often seems as though background noise is actually louder than it is.  This is due to the fact that there is no longer an equal low frequency to high frequency ratio.  Low frequencies typically provide more background noise.  The high frequencies provide more speech discrimination.  Therefore if you naturally hear the low frequencies better... you will also hear background noise louder.

The good news... Hearing instruments are very successful at correcting high frequency hearing loss.   By properly correcting the high frequency deficit the signal to noise ratio between noise and speech will be narrowed and closer to ‘1 to 1’ ratio thus making speech clearer...even in background noise.  A newer feature with Starkey of the Starkey Livio Ai hearing instruments allow the patient to have the conversation actually printed on the screen of their compatible smart phone.  You can even save it to refer back to later.  This is an awesome feature for those who have problems understanding as well as remembering what was said.  Keep your senses sharp and clear.  If you are having difficulties with understanding speech, don’t wait...reach out to a qualified Hearing Health Care Provider today.  

To Hear Better Is To Live Better!


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