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McDonald Hearing Services - Grand Rapids, MI

Patients often ask precisely why hearing in crowds of people is particularly hard for them. 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 F, S, and H.

If this situation sounds familiar to you, it may be an indication that you have suffered some degree of 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 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. There are other potential causes, including genetic factors, diabetes, exposure to toxic drugs such as chemotherapy agents, 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 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.