A frequent question from patients relates to the ability to hear in crowded rooms. 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. Not so in crowded situations. Whether in large public space outdoors such as a football game or indoors at a party, they report being unable to distinguish the speakers’ voice over the background noise. This is true even when the speaker is close by and addressing them directly. 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 you are experiencing these symptoms, there is a possibility that you may have suffered some form or high-frequency hearing loss. Sound comes in different frequencies, and human speech – especially the consonants mentioned above – tends to fall into the range that scientists define as “high-frequency,” between 3000 and 8000 Hz. In crowds, there is a mix of frequencies, ranging from the low frequencies of background music or people walking or dancing to the higher frequencies of human speech. 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.

High-frequency hearing loss is common, afflicting at least 18% of the population. 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.

The important thing to remember is that if you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss, it can be effectively treated. We can prescribe hearing aids that have been adjusted to reduce the volume of low-frequency sounds and boost the volume of the higher frequencies, so that you can hear better 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.

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