Posted on Thursday, September 15, 2016

What is High Frequency Hearing Loss?

businessman on cell phone

It's natural for people to assume that hearing loss is a very straight forward proposition. You can't hear the things around you. The truth is more complicated. In fact, someone with hearing loss might be able to hear some things just fine, but have a problem with hearing others things. Such is the case with high frequency hearing loss.

In order to understand high frequency hearing loss, you must understand frequency. Frequency is the number of waves a sound produces per second and is measured in hertz (Hz). The chirp from a bird is a higher frequency of around 4000 Hz, which is why someone with high frequency hearing loss might not hear birds. High frequency hearing loss also affects an individuals ability to understand speech. So although they can hear vowels fairly well, consonants like F, T, S, and TH are higher and harder for them to comprehend. It's typical for someone with high frequency hearing loss to think that people around them are mumbling, especially people with higher registers like females or children.

Hearing aids with greater bandwidths were once thought to be a solution for high frequency hearing loss as they could provide more amplification. In other words, they allowed the volume to be turned way up. But the problem with turning the sound up is that it can also result in annoying whistling and feedback. Another, newer solution for those with higher frequency hearing loss is using frequency lowering hearing aids.

Frequency lowering hearing aids filter sounds in the higher registers to the lower registers making them available for those people who still have hearing in those lower registers. So if the frequency of a sound is 3000 Hz the hearing aid will lower it to a hearable frequency, say 1000 Hz. In other words, instead of raising the volume loud enough to compensate for the hearing loss, it lowers the sound to a range the person can still hear within. This does create a small problem.

The basic idea with frequency lowering hearing aids is to alter sounds in higher registers and feed them to the lower registers. But we know that one of the problems with hearing loss is a lack of sound stimulation to the brain can cause atrophy within the brain and can lead to a higher rate of dementia and Alzheimer's. The question than becomes is the solution of frequency lowering hearing aids inadvertently denying sound to an area of of the brain that needs it? And in neglecting to feed sounds to the higher registers could a person be worsening their hearing loss in those registers or even allowing atrophy to occur at that level?

The answer to this dilemma seems to be a hearing aid that does two things. A hearing aid that makes a sound higher--while using today's more advanced technology to keep whistling down--and a hearing aid that also delivers some higher registers into the lower register range. There are hearing aids available today with this dual ability. Oticon and Widex are two manufacturers who allow this type of control, recognizing that people still need to hear in higher ranges to activate their brain in those areas. These manufacturers have hearing aids with the frequency lowering option programmed for specific listening environments. Conversely, other listening environment would rely on amplification.

If you'd like to learn more about today's hearing technologies, please see your hearing health professional. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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