Our patients frequently ask us why they seem to have greater difficulty hearing in busy spaces 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 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. The same people that have difficulty with crowds, will often also express that they find it challenging to hear and distinguish certain consonants especially H, F, and S.
If these challenges sounds familiar to you, it is possible that you have a degree of hearing loss in the high-frequency range. Human speech, especially the consonants “S,” “F,” and “H,” fall into the range of sounds between 3000 and 8000 Hertz, which scientists define as “high-frequency.” 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. Those suffering from high-frequency hearing loss tend to perceive the low-frequency sounds (which in this case qualify as noise) as sounding louder than the high-frequency sounds they are trying to focus on – the voices of people speaking to them.
At least 18 percent of the population suffers from some form of high-frequency hearing loss. High-frequency hearing loss is normal with aging, but is increasingly being diagnosed in younger adults too. Audiologists suspect this may come from repeated exposure to loud music especially through personal headphones. Other factors that can cause hearing loss include genetics, exposure to toxic drugs (including some chemotherapy agents), diabetes, and other diseases.
The important thing to remember is that if you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss, it can be effectively treated. Hearing aids can be adjusted to amplify the higher frequencies and suppress lower frequencies, with the result that you can hear voices better in crowded rooms.
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. There are other causes for this, and our specialists can perform tests to determine whether the cause in your case really is hearing loss, and if so, treat it.