Hearing Health Blog

Woman talking with her granddaughter at a pier now that she is not suffering from high-frequency hearing loss.

Hearing loss is not just about volume, it’s about pitch. If you find it hard to understand the speech of a child or a woman, but you can still mostly understand the men in the room, you may have some level of high-frequency hearing loss. You’re not alone…this is the most common type of hearing loss.

Symptoms of High-Frequency Hearing Loss

With high-frequency hearing loss, you may still be able to register the volume of a woman’s voice or a child’s voice, but consonant sounds that make conversation easy to understand get muddled. Usually, consonant sounds like t, th, ch, soft c, s, sh, f, k and h are the hardest to pick out. So, it may sound like a woman or child is mumbling, even though they aren’t. Losing the ability to differentiate these sounds makes it very hard to understand a child’s joke or your sister’s question about dinner plans. This can cause frustration, sadness and social isolation from your circle of family and friends.

People with high-frequency hearing loss also miss other sounds falling within the high-frequency range (2000 Hz and higher). This includes birds chirping, high musical notes, whistles or squeaks. Low-frequency sounds like bass musical notes, the rumble of thunder or a man’s voice may still be fairly easy to discern, even if the volume isn’t very loud.

Causes of High-Frequency Hearing Loss

As the most common type of hearing loss, high-frequency hearing loss can creep up on people as they age; often imperceptibly at first. Besides aging, excessive noise exposure, certain medications and a variety of medical conditions like cardiovascular disease can lead to high-frequency hearing loss.

These situations all do damage to the tiny, hair-like sensory cells within the cochlea. It’s these tiny cells that receive sound input and send it to the brain for processing. The high-frequency sensory cells are more vulnerable to damage than the low-frequency sensory cells, which is why the higher-pitched sounds are often the first to become difficult to understand.

How to Prevent High-Frequency Hearing Loss

While you can’t prevent your ears from aging, there are many steps you can take to prevent or at least slow the progression of high-frequency hearing loss. Some of these include:

  • Wearing hearing protection in noisy environments. If you have to shout to be heard in a noisy environment, this is a sure sign the noise could hurt your hearing. Heavy traffic, motorcycles revving, power tool sounds, the loud stereo systems at movie theaters or rock concerts are all examples of times when popping in the ear plugs is a good idea. Noise-canceling headphones are also a good option in some situations, but may not fit in your pocket as easily as ear plugs.
  • Seeking out quiet things. Look for noise ratings on appliances and choose the quietest models. And don’t be afraid to ask the restaurant manager to turn the music down if it’s hard to hear your dinner companions.
  • Taking good care of your overall health. Smoking can damage your hearing. Poor health from poor nutrition or lack of exercise can also hurt your hearing. Try to take good care of your health in all aspects and this can protect your hearing as well.
  • Never using a swab (or other small objects) to remove ear wax. This can jam old ear wax into your ear canal and blunt your ability to hear. Gently wipe out excess ear wax with a rag after you shower, or ask your hearing professional about other ear irrigation techniques for removing ear wax without hurting your hearing.
  • Ask your doctor about medications you take. At least 200 different kinds of medications can cause or worsen high-frequency hearing loss. Even aspirin at high doses can damage your hearing. Check with your doctor to see if there are options less likely to damage your hearing. If you can’t avoid taking a particular medication, stay in close contact with your hearing professional for regular hearing loss and balance testing. Treating hearing loss early can help prevent further loss.

Treatment for High-Frequency Hearing Loss

Hearing aids are currently the most effective method for treating high-frequency hearing loss. And since this is the most common type of hearing loss, there are many different models a person can choose from. Hearing aids can augment high-pitched sounds so they are clearer to the listener. Many models are configurable and your hearing professional can help fine tune them to improve your ability to hear those sounds at the right level, directly addressing the level and extent of the hearing loss. Some hearing aids can be controlled by your phone and include directional microphones for fine tuning in situations like business meetings, restaurant dinners, talking on the phone or listening to children.

If you suspect that you may be dealing with high-frequency hearing loss, schedule a hearing test. Odds are, there are individually-tailored solutions that can improve your ability to catch your grandchild’s priceless one-liners.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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