A very common question from patients concerns the ability to hear in crowded rooms. 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 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. 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 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.

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

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. 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.