Our patients oftentimes ask us why they seem to have significantly greater difficulty hearing in busy rooms than in other situations. When they are talking to people one-on-one, or in small groups of people there is no problem, and they seem to hear just fine. But in a crowd, such as a noisy party or in large public gatherings, suddenly it becomes difficult to understand what the person speaking to them is saying, or to distinguish the speaker’s voice from the background sounds. People who complain of this condition often report that they have difficulty distinguishing between consonants such as the letters “S,” “H,” and “F.”

If this situation sounds familiar to you, it may be an indication that you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss. Human speech, especially the consonants “H,” “F,” and “S,” fall into the range of sounds between 3000 and 8000 Hz, which scientists define as “high-frequency.” In a crowd, what you hear is a mixture of frequencies, with the high frequencies of human speech “competing” with lower-frequency sounds such as music or the noise of people walking or dancing. 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. Other factors that can cause hearing loss include genetics, exposure to toxic drugs (including some chemotherapy agents), diabetes, and other diseases.

If you have indeed suffered some high-frequency hearing loss, it 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 specialists can perform tests to determine whether your problem hearing in crowds is really related to hearing loss, or whether it might arise from other causes.

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