I have a high frequency bilateral hearing loss. I know. It’s a mouthful. Let me break it down so it’s easier to understand.
Having a high frequency hearing loss means I cannot hear high frequency sounds. It also means that I cannot hear high octave sounds, such as a woman’s voice, a child’s voice, or a chirping bird.
Additionally, there are several letters in the English alphabet that are difficult for me to hear. Mainly, these include S, F, H, CH, SH, to name a few.
As far as the medical definition of a high frequency hearing loss, it depends on who you ask. According to Jamie Berke in his article High Frequency Hearing Loss,
some experts consider 2000 Hertz (2kHz) to be high frequency. The high frequency ranges go from 2000 Hertz to 8000 Hertz. (1000 Hz is considered to be mid-frequency.)
To give you a better idea of what this means, I’ve included a picture of an audiogram (results from a hearing test) of someone with a high frequency hearing loss.
If you look closely, you can see that hearing starts to drop off at about 2000 Hz. My most recent audiogram looks pretty similar to this, though mine plummets to about 100 on the intensity side before leveling off. I will post a pic of my actual audiogram later (I will also post a blog on audiograms at some point).
To clarify, I’ve also included a normal audiogram.
As you can see, this audiogram shows the range of hearing loss and where different types of hearing loss start. My fiance’s audiogram looks like this. If you look closely at the normal audiogram, you can see that anything below 25 on the intensity side indicates some loss of hearing.
So, what does this mean for me? Well, it means that because of my high frequency hearing loss, I have a difficult time understanding spoken words. The reason for this is that English consonants (s, h, f) are high-frequency sounds that range from 1,500 to 6,000 Hertz. Thus, a loss of hearing in those frequencies means that those sounds are difficult to hear. Vowels, on the other hand, are not a problem.
Here is an image to give you an idea of what kinds of sounds I can’t hear due to my type of hearing loss:
How common is high frequency hearing loss? Well, in the United States from 1988 to 1994 (James Berke):
the prevalence of high-frequency hearing loss was just 12.8%; but from 2005 to 2006, it was 16.4%.
It would seem that high frequency hearing loss is increasing in prevalence in the US. It begs the question: what causes high frequency hearing loss? Contrary to what you might think, noise is not the only cause of hearing loss. Other causes, according to Dr. Ryan Crawford, include:
Diabetes due to neuropathy
Genetics – family history
Age – hair cells in the cochlea die off as we get older
Acoustic neuroma (vestibular schwannoma) a benign tumor
Infections – colds, flu, meningitis
Otitis Media (inflammation of the middle ear)
I would like to take a moment to clarify something. There is a big difference between not hearing something and not understanding something. When they say that people with high frequency hearing loss have trouble with speech, what they mean is that our hearing loss makes it difficult for us to understand and make sense of speech. This doesn’t mean we can’t hear it.
In his article How High Freqeuncy Hearing Loss Affects Your Life, Dr. Kloss explains it this way:
When someone has a high frequency hearing loss, they can hear low frequency sounds (vowels) louder than other sounds. This allows them to be alerted that someone is speaking to them, but since the high frequency sounds are missing or present at significantly lower levels, they cannot understand what is being said.
I often know when someone is speaking to me because I can hear them, but I can’t begin to tell you what is being said. It just sounds like jumbled noise. I think this is what frustrates hearing people about people like me; they can see that we can hear them, so why can’t we understand them? Because my hearing loss takes away understanding. That’s why.
Dr. Kloss goes on to explain how the brain processes sound:
The human brain is very powerful but is limited by the sounds that the ears let in. If you have a high frequency hearing loss, your brain is not getting that information and cannot make use of it to understand speech.
The best way to solve this is to use hearing aids that can help people like me hear the high frequency sounds I miss and help re-wire my brain to be able to hear high frequency sounds again. Dr. Kloss warns that this process takes several months, but the end result is better speech understanding, which is very important in a hearing world.
I hope that give you a better understanding of my type of hearing loss. 🙂