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
  • Frequently ask people to repeat what they have said
  • Prefer the television or radio louder than other people
  • Have trouble understanding what is being said at the movies or theater, your house of worship, or other public gatherings
  • Have difficulty understanding conversations in a group
  • Have trouble understanding someone if they are speaking from a different room
  • Become more impatient, irritable, frustrated, or withdrawn
  • Have trouble understanding people when you cannot see their faces
  • Strain to hear conversations
  • Avoid being the first person to start a conversation
  • Have trouble hearing when people speak softly
  • Have trouble hearing on the telephone
  • Avoid social occasions, family gatherings and noisy environments

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, but have hearing loss in the high-pitched sounds. Some examples of low-pitched sounds in speech are vowel sounds like "o, ooh, ah, a, e," etc. Some examples of high-pitched sounds in speech are "s, f, th," etc. These high-pitched consonant sounds carry the meaning of words so they help us understand speech, but tend to be very soft in volume.

The low-pitched vowel sounds carry the volume of speech, but do not have much meaning. Therefore, vowel sounds help us hear speech, but do not help us understand what is said. In normal conversation, speech might sound loud enough but not clear enough if a hearing loss is present. This problem is worse in background noise, since background noise interferes with and covers up speech. This problem is often associated with sensorineural hearing loss, which results from damage in the inner ear and/or in the auditory nerve endings.

What can I expect from my hearing aids?

Unlike eyeglasses, hearing aids cannot provide complete correction for the impairment. No hearing aid will restore your hearing to normal or provide a perfect substitute for normal hearing. The benefits derived from wearing hearing aids, even the most technologically advanced, will vary from person to person. The greatest benefit will be experienced with consistent use of hearing aids.

What hearing aids can do:
  • Hearing aids make sounds louder (amplify sounds) so that you can hear them. The goal is to make soft sounds audible, the sound of normal conversation comfortable, and loud sounds loud, but not too loud.
  • Hearing aids improve a person's ability to understand speech (such as conversations) by amplifying the sounds (such as high-pitched consonants) not audible to the individual. The extent a hearing aid can improve speech understanding will depend on the degree of the person's hearing loss and how much noise is present in the listening situations.
  • Some hearing aids can amplify high-pitched consonant sounds more than low-pitched vowel sounds to help you hear better in noisy situations.
  • Some advanced hearing aid systems use multiple microphone technology to further enhance communication in noisy environments.
What hearing aids cannot do:
  • Hearing aids cannot change how your ears and auditory system function. Hearing aids will not restore your hearing to normal.
  • Hearing aids cannot completely eliminate troublesome background noise
  • Hearing aids cannot stop the progression of hearing loss.
  • Hearing aids cannot separate the sounds you want to hear from those you do not want to hear. That’s the role of the brain.

Do I need one or two hearing aids?

People with hearing loss, even in only one ear, benefit the most from wearing a hearing aid in each ear. The benefits of having a hearing aid in each ear include:

  • Improved ability to understand speech in background noise
  • Less need to turn up the volume of the hearing aid – lower volume reduces the chance of hearing aid ‘whistle’ (feedback)
  • Less fatigue at the end of the day because it is easier to listen with both ears
  • Improved ability to locate the source of sound
  • Possible prevention of the slow loss of hearing in the ‘better’ ear

© Copyright 1995-2013 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/10/2012...#5269