Our patients frequently ask us why they seem to have greater difficulty hearing in busy rooms than in other situations. Person-to-person conversations and even small group conversations don’t cause them any trouble. 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 also often mention having trouble hearing the consonants “S,” “F,” and “H,” no longer being able to distinguish one from the other.
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 Hz range as high-frequency. This is the range that the S, H, and F sounds typically fall into. 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. Individuals with high-frequency hearing loss will report that the low-frequency sounds are much louder to them. To them it is as if the ‘background noise’ has been amplified relative to the human speech they are trying to focus on.
High-frequency hearing loss is quite common. Some studies have found that as much as 18 percent of the population is affected. 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.
If you have indeed suffered some high-frequency hearing loss, it can be 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.
If you have trouble hearing in crowds, your first step should be to make an appointment with one of our specialists, so that we can determine whether you have suffered some form of hearing loss. 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.