When people think of hearing loss, they often think of people no longer being able to hear quieter sounds. However, volume is only one factor that makes up the sounds that we hear. Another important aspect is the pitch/frequency of the sound; the higher the pitch, the closer the sound waves are to one another and the higher the sound. Difficulty hearing these higher sounds is known as high frequency hearing loss.
Symptoms of High Frequency Hearing Loss
High frequency hearing loss is one of the most common types of hearing loss. Although it can affect people of any age, it is more common in older adults and people exposed regularly to loud noises. Specifically sounds in the frequency range of approximately 2,000 Hertz (Hz) and 8,000 Hz become difficult to hear.
So how can you tell if you’re experiencing high frequency hearing loss? There are some obvious symptoms to watch out for, which include:
- Having trouble understanding the voices of adult females and children, but have an easier time understanding adult male voices.
- Having trouble distinguishing consonants in speech, such F, H, or S, which makes speech sound muffled; this may be exacerbated when talking on the telephone or watching TV.
- Difficulty hearing birds singing or chirping.
- Difficulty hearing devices that beep, such as the microwave or an alarm clock.
- Having trouble hearing treble sounds in music.
- Having a difficult time hearing conversations in large gatherings or noisy places with background noise.
Causes of High Frequency Hearing Loss
Within our inner ear is the cochlea. This fluid-filled area contains tiny hair cells, whose movements are transformed into electrical impulses which are sent along the auditory nerve to the brain to be processed as sound. Different hair cells are responsible for different pitches, or frequencies, of sound.
In people with high frequency hearing loss, some or all of the hair cells in the cochlea responsible for detecting high frequency sounds are damaged. As a result, when high frequency sounds enter the ear and cause the fluid in the cochlea to move, there are no functioning hair cells to receive that signal and transmit it to the auditory nerve. This type of hearing loss is also known as sensorineural hearing loss. There are several reasons why the hair cells may become damaged:
- Noise: Noise-induced hearing loss affects nearly 5.2 million children and adolescents and approximately 26 million adults in the United States. The damage can occur from an one-time event (such as a gunshot or explosion) or from chronic exposure to any noise louder than 85 decibels. People that work in a noisy environments, such as mining or airports, have a much higher risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss.
- Aging: As you age your ears are exposed to sound longer and longer, thus increasing the likelihood that hair cells become damaged. The term for age-related hearing loss is presbycusis. This is a slow, gradual process and therefore most people do not notice the hearing loss until much later in life.
- Genetics: If you have a high incidence of high frequency hearing loss in your family, then you might have a genetic predisposition for developing hearing loss as well.
- Medications: Some medications are ototoxic, meaning they can damage your hearing. Common ototoxic drugs include aspirin in large doses and drugs used in chemotherapy.
- Diseases: Certain diseases can damage the inner ear and cause hearing loss, including Meniere’s disease, otitis media (ear infections), otosclerosis, autoimmune inner ear disease.
The first step in treating high frequency hearing loss is to make an appointment with a licensed audiologist or other hearing professional and schedule a hearing test.
The results of a hearing test, called an audiogram, will show what frequencies your hearing is deficient in. An audiogram that slopes to the right indicates difficult hearing in the 2,000 to 8,000 Hz range. This hearing loss may be characterized as mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe, or profound.
Most high frequency hearing loss is treated with hearing aids. The type of hearing aid that is most often recommended for this type of hearing loss is receiver-in-the-ear/receiver-in-canal (RITE/RIC). This type of hearing aid sits in the ear canal, and has an open fit which allows low- and mid-pitch sounds to travel to your eardrum without interference or muffling.
Smaller types of hearing aids, such as completely-in-the-canal (CIC), do not work well for high frequency hearing loss. Although they are smaller and less noticeable, because they block the ear canal they also interfere with lower pitch sounds traveling to your eardrum naturally.
The information in this guide has been written using the following reliable sources: