Crowded Rooms, Background Noise and Your Hearing

Our patients frequently ask us why they seem to have greater difficulty hearing in crowded spaces 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. The same people that have difficulty with crowds, will often also express that they find it challenging to hear and distinguish certain consonants especially S, F, and H.

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 Hertz 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 common, afflicting at least 18 percent of the population. 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. High-frequency hearing loss can also be the result of diabetes, a side affect of certain prescription drugs or genetic factors.

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 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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