What you Should Know about Hearing in Crowded Situations

Patients commonly inquire why hearing in crowds of people is particularly tough for them. They report that they don’t seem to have any problem hearing people and understanding what they say when they are speaking to them one-on-one, or even in small groups. Not so in crowded situations. Whether in large public space outdoors such as a football game or indoors at a party, they report being unable to distinguish the speakers’ voice over the background noise. This is true even when the speaker is close by and addressing them directly. People who complain of this also often mention having trouble hearing the consonants “S,” “F,” and “H,” no longer being able to distinguish one from the other.

If this situation sounds familiar to you, it may be an indication that you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss. Sound comes in different frequencies, and human speech – especially the consonants mentioned above – tends to fall into the range that scientists define as “high-frequency,” between 3000 and 8000 Hertz. In crowds, there is a mix of frequencies, ranging from the low frequencies of background music or people walking or dancing to the higher frequencies of human speech. People with high-frequency hearing loss tend to perceive the lower frequencies – in this case, the noise – as sounding louder than the higher frequencies, which they are now having more trouble hearing.

At least 18% of the population suffers from some form of high-frequency hearing loss. 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.

The important thing to remember is that if you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss, it can be effectively treated. Modern hearing aids can be tuned to amplify certain frequencies while suppressing others. This makes it possible to adjust a hearing aid specifically for high-frequency hearing loss and better hearing in crowds.

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 audiologist can perform a variety of tests to identify the underlying cause of the problem and recommend the best treatment options for your specific situation.