They say each day is a gift—and that gift includes a medley of sounds that stitch your day together, from birds chirping as you sip your morning coffee on the patio, to the serene sound of spring rain pattering on your umbrella. But how does hearing loss affect our ability to hear these sounds? And which sounds do those with hearing loss commonly miss? Read on to find out.
How is sound measured?
In order to discover what sounds you could be missing, it’s important to first understand a bit about how sound is measured. Sound is measured in two ways: decibels and frequencies.
Decibels (dB) refer to how loud or soft a sound is, or its intensity. A person without hearing loss can typically hear sounds from 0 to 85 dB. Someone with mild hearing loss is unable to hear sounds below 30 or 40 decibels, while a person with moderate hearing loss will miss sounds below 50-70 decibels. Since a lot of speech occurs within 55-65 dB decibel range, a person with moderate hearing loss may have trouble hearing (and comprehending) conversations, especially amid background noise.
Sound frequency is measured in hertz (Hz) and refers to the tone or pitch of the sound. Low frequency sounds are the bass sounds like a tuba where high frequency sounds are the treble sounds like a bird or cricket chirping. Generally speaking, the lower the number, the lower the pitch of that sound. Most everyday sounds we hear fall within 250 to 6,000 Hz, though the full range of sounds a person without hearing loss can detect ranges from 20 to 20,000 Hz.
Common low frequency sounds, 500 Hz and lower, include:
- Dogs barking
- Lawn mowers
- The sound of thunder
- In speech, consonants like “j,” “u,” and “z”
Common high frequency, above 2000 Hz, sounds include:
- Birds chirping
- A child’s squeal
- Women's voices
- In speech, consonants like “f,” “s” and “th”
What is low or high frequency hearing loss?
High frequency hearing loss
Typically, high frequency sounds are the first to get missed when someone has hearing loss. Why? The hair (or nerve) cells in our inner ear that perceive higher pitched sounds are more likely to get damaged first, based on the anatomy of our inner ear. These nerve cells can be damaged by a number of different causes, but exposure to loud sounds is one of the most common reasons.
Someone with high frequency hearing loss has trouble hearing sounds in the 2,000 to 8,000 Hz range. They often find it difficult to understand women and children when they speak, due to the higher pitch sound of those voices. Certain high-pitched consonants like “f,” “s” and “th” (4,000-5,000 Hz) also might get missed, causing speech to sound muffled or garbled. People with high frequency hearing loss will frequently say "I can hear, but I don't understand."
Low frequency hearing loss
In contrast, low frequency hearing loss means it is more difficult to hear or understand low frequency sounds below 500 Hz, such as the hum of a refrigerator or roar of a garbage truck. This type of hearing loss is often due to genetic factors, a congenital defect, or a malformation in the middle ear -- missing or damaged ear drum, injury to the middle ear bones, or otosclerosis. Also, chronic ear infections can cause low frequency hearing loss.
Missing sounds checklist
If you find that you’re missing more than a few of the sounds listed below on a regular basis, it may be time to get your hearing checked by a hearing care professional.
Commonly missed sounds for those with hearing loss:
- Animals and pets:
- Cats purring
- Dogs barking or whining
- Collar tags jingling
- Paws pattering on hardwood
- Nature sounds:
- Crackling of pine needles as you walk through the woods
- Leaves rustling in the wind
- Birds chirping outside your window
- Ocean waves crashing against the shore
- Rainfall, or raindrops pattering on your umbrella
- Babbling streams as the water cascades down rocks
- The haunting, yet beautiful sound of a violin
- The elegant, high-pitched whistle of a flute
- Subtle nuances, like the ding of a triangle or cymbal in the percussion
- Women and children:
- Your sister, wife or female friend talking
- Children sharing a fun story
- Grandkids whispering a joke in your ear
Request an appointment here to begin your hearing care journey.