What are the signs of hearing loss?

You may notice a number of early warning signs and changes in your behavior that may be related to hearing loss. You may begin to:

  • Complain that people are mumbling or speaking too softly
  • Frequently ask people to repeat what they have said –especially in noisy situations
  • Prefer the television or radio louder than other people
  • Have difficulty understanding on the telephone
  • Not understand all the dialogue at the movies or during live theater productions
  • Have difficulty understanding at your house of worship or other public gatherings
  • Find yourself more impatient, irritable, frustrated or withdrawn than before
  • Have trouble understanding people when you cannot see their faces
  • Strain to hear conversations, especially when in a group setting

Why can I hear people but not understand them?

A common type of hearing loss is one in which people have normal or nearly normal hearing in the low-and mid-pitched sounds, such as vowels, but have hearing loss in the range we hear high-pitched sounds, such as consonants.

Vowels such as “o, ooh, ah, a, e” have most of their energy in the lower pitches or frequencies and are easy to hear. The higher pitch consonant sounds such as “s, sh, f, th” and tend to be softer and harder to hear. Yet, it is the high pitched consonant sounds that are most critical for speech clarity and understanding.

In normal conversation, speech might sound loud enough but lacks clarity so your ability to understand what is said is compromised. This problem is more noticeable when you are listening in background noise or when there is greater distance between you and the talker.

What can I expect from my hearing aids?

Unlike eyeglasses, hearing aids do not correct your hearing back to normal. Instead, hearing aids function to amplify sounds in a particular range of pitches – the range where the hearing loss exists. Included in those sounds can be speech or environment sounds such as bells ringing, birds singing, conversations from nearby tables at a restaurant or busy traffic noise.

While the hearing aid technology today is excellent, the devices are still an “aid” and cannot separate the desired speech signal from the background noise as well as our brain and two normal functioning ears can. Therefore, it is important to employ communication strategies when using hearing aids in difficult listening environments.

Do I need one or two hearing aids?

If hearing loss exists in both ears, there is greater benefit in using a device in each ear – similar to wearing eyeglasses with two lenses. There are always exceptions to the general rule and that will be discussed with your audiologist. Benefits from hearing aids in each ear include:

  • Improved ability to understand speech in background noise
  • Less amplification in each hearing aid reducing the possibility of feedback (hearing aid whistling)
  • Less auditory effort so you are less fatigued at the end of the day
  • Improved ability to locate the source of sound
Care at Cleveland Clinic

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/01/2019.


  • Hearing Loss Association of America. How Can I Tell If I Have a Hearing Loss? (https://www.hearingloss.org/hearing-help/hearing-loss-basics/) Accessed 9/2/2018.
  • National Institutes on Health. NIH Fact Sheet: Hearing Aids. (https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/Documents/health/hearing/nidcd-hearing-aids.pdf) Accessed 7/1/2020.
  • National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Assistive Devices for People with Hearing, Voice, Speech or Language Disorders. (https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/assistive-devices-people-hearing-voice-speech-or-language-disorders) Accessed 9/2/2018.

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