How Crowded Rooms and Background Noise Affect Your Ability to Hear

A common question from patients pertains to being able to hear in crowded places. 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. 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. People who complain of this also often mention having trouble hearing the consonants “H,” “F,” and “S,” no longer being able to distinguish one from the other.

If this situation sounds familiar to you, it may be an indication that you have suffered some degree of 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 H, F, and S sounds typically fall into. 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. People with high-frequency hearing loss tend to perceive the lower frequencies – in this case, the noise – as sounding louder than the higher frequencies, which they are now having more trouble hearing.

At least 18 percent of the population suffers from some form of high-frequency hearing loss. The most common cause of this is aging, but in recent years audiologists have found increasing numbers of teenagers and young adults suffering from it, possibly as a result of listening to overly loud music. 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.

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 specialists can perform tests to determine whether your problem hearing in crowds is really related to hearing loss, or whether it might arise from other causes.

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