Patients frequently inquire why hearing in crowds is especially tough for them. When they are talking to people one-on-one, or in small groups of people there is no problem, and they seem to hear just fine. But when they find themselves in a large crowd they often find it very difficult to understand what the people speaking to them directly are saying, or even to hear their voices over the background noise. People who complain of this condition often report that they have difficulty distinguishing between consonants such as the letters “S,” “F,” and “H.”

If this situation sounds familiar to you, it may be an indication that you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss. When describing human speech, audiologists define the 3000 to 8000 Hz range as high-frequency. This is the range that the F, S, and H sounds typically fall into. In a crowded situation there are many sounds across the frequency spectrum competing with one another. Much of the background noise – such as people dancing or walking – occurs at lower frequencies. Speech is layered on top of this in the higher frequency ranges. Those suffering from high-frequency hearing loss tend to perceive the low-frequency sounds (which in this case qualify as noise) as sounding louder than the high-frequency sounds they are trying to focus on – the voices of people speaking to them.

At least 18 percent 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. 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. 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.

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.