They say each day is a gift—and that gift includes a medley of sounds that stitch your day together, from birds chirping as you sip your morning coffee on the patio to the serene sound of summer rain pattering on your umbrella. But how does hearing loss affect our ability to hear these sounds? And which sounds may those with hearing loss commonly miss? Read on to find out.
Sound is measured in two ways: decibels and frequencies. Decibels (dB) refer to how loud or soft a sound is, or its intensity. A person with normal hearing can typically hear sounds from 0 to 140 dB. Someone with mild hearing loss is unable to hear sounds below 30 or 40 decibels, while a person with moderate hearing loss will miss sounds below 50-70 decibels. Since a lot of speech occurs within this decibel range, a person with moderate hearing loss may have trouble hearing (and comprehending) conversations, especially amid background noise.
Sound frequency is measured in hertz (Hz) and refers to how “high” or “low” a sound is, or its pitch. The lower the number, the lower the pitch of that sound. Most everyday sounds we hear fall within 250 to 6,000 Hz, though the full range of sounds a person with normal hearing can detect ranges from 20 to 20,000 Hz.
Low frequency sounds include:
High frequency sounds include:
Typically, high frequency sounds are the first to get missed when someone has hearing loss. Why? The hair (or nerve) cells in our inner ear that perceive higher pitched sounds are more likely to get damaged first, based on the anatomy of our inner ear. These nerve cells can get damaged for a number of reasons, but exposure to loud sounds is one of the most common reasons, leading to noise-induced hearing loss.
Someone with high frequency hearing loss has trouble hearing sounds in the 2,000 to 8,000 Hz range. They often find it difficult to understand women and children when they speak, due to the high pitch sound of those voices. Certain high-pitched consonants like “f,” “s” and “th” (4,000-5,000 Hz) also might get missed, causing speech to sound muffled or garbled.
In contrast, low frequency hearing loss means it is more difficult to hear or understand low frequency sounds, such as the hum of a refrigerator or roar of a garbage truck. This type of hearing loss is often due to genetic factors, a congenital defect or a malformation in the inner ear (cochlea).
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