Ways Your Hearing is Affected by Crowded Rooms and Background Noise

Patients often ask precisely why hearing in crowds of people is especially challenging for them. Person-to-person conversations and even small group conversations don’t cause them any trouble. 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 condition often report that they have difficulty distinguishing between consonants such as the letters “S,” “H,” and “F.”

If these challenges sounds familiar to you, it is possible that you have a degree of hearing loss in the high-frequency range. When describing human speech, audiologists define the 3000 to 8000 Hertz range as high-frequency. This is the range that the S, H, and F sounds typically fall into. In a crowd, what you hear is a mixture of frequencies, with the high frequencies of human speech “competing” with lower-frequency sounds such as music or the noise of people walking or dancing. 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. The most common cause of this is aging, but in recent years audiologists have found increasing numbers of teenagers and young adults suffering from it, possibly as a result of listening to overly loud music. There are other potential causes, including genetic factors, diabetes, exposure to toxic drugs such as chemotherapy agents, and other diseases.

The important thing to remember is that if you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss, it can be effectively treated. Hearing aids can be adjusted to amplify the higher frequencies and suppress lower frequencies, with the result that you can hear voices better in crowded rooms.

The first step is to visit one of our specialists, and make sure that the problem is caused by a loss of hearing. 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.