Our patients frequently ask us why they seem to have significantly greater difficulty hearing in crowded areas than in other conditions. 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. 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. People who complain of this condition often report that they have difficulty distinguishing between consonants such as the letters “F,” “S,” and “H.”

If you are experiencing these symptoms, there is a possibility that you may have suffered some form or high-frequency hearing loss. When describing human speech, audiologists define the 3000 to 8000 Hertz range as high-frequency. This is the range that the S, H, and F sounds typically fall into. 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 quite common. Some studies have found that as much as 18 percent 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.

The important thing to remember is that if you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss, it can be effectively 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.

The first step is to visit one of our specialists, and make sure that the problem is caused by a loss of hearing. 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.

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