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  • Become more impatient, irritable, frustrated, or withdrawn.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.

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