Understanding hearing test results can be overwhelming. You might hear phrases like “moderate sensori-neural high frequency hearing loss.” Professionals often use technical terms, which can be challenging. As someone in the field, I’ll simplify things for you. Keep reading to demystify. You can also access a free online hearing test through the link below.
Modern hearing test technology, initially developed in the late 1940s, has stayed remarkably consistent. It assesses hearing by presenting sounds to establish the minimum audible level.
In audiology, these sounds are referred to as frequencies, which is a common professional term. Musicians, on the other hand, refer to them as “notes,” while in the early days of radio, people spoke about “low” and “high” tones.Sounds can fall into bass or treble categories. Striking a drum or using far left piano keys produces bass sounds. These are low-frequency and weighty, resembling a bus’s roar or a door knock. The “V” sound in words like “Dove” or “Voice” is a bass sound in speech, as are most vowel sounds.
Contrastingly, treble sounds are gentle and faint, such as a whistle or rustling paper. Common treble sounds include the “S” sound. They can be easily overshadowed or “masked” by more powerful bass sounds, making them hard to hear in specific scenarios.
When a loud sound, like a passing bus, causes a softer sound, like a person’s voice, to disappear, it is called “masking.” Have you ever tried to talk to someone while a bus was passing by, and you couldn’t hear their voice? That’s an example of masking.
Examine the diagram: left represents bass, right denotes treble. Left indicates low frequencies, right indicates high frequencies. As we age, higher pitch (high frequencies) tends to become less audible. Noise, usually lower in tone, masks the higher frequency sounds. It’s not surprising that as we age, understanding speech becomes more challenging, and people may seem to mumble, as we struggle to hear the softer higher pitch sounds adequately.
Speech loudness is gauged in decibels, typically ranging from 55dB to 65dB on average. In the diagram, zero decibels is at the top, and 100 decibels is at the bottom. During my recent visit to the cinema for Star Wars, I measured 90dB. Once it reaches 80dB, it’s considered potentially harmful, especially if you’re exposed for extended periods.
An ideal or “perfect” hearing condition is at 0 dB decibels. In studies with a controlled group of younger individuals, this is where they could just hear. The typical range for normal hearing falls between -10 dB and 20 dB, which is considered within the normal hearing spectrum.
As mentioned earlier, our ability to hear softer treble sounds diminishes with age, while bass sounds remain more audible. When linking this to the initial paragraph, a moderate high frequency loss generally implies difficulty in hearing softer consonants, particularly those at the beginnings and ends of words, compared to the bass sounds.
Certain individuals struggle to perceive speech sounds adequately across the entire spectrum, referred to as a “flat loss” in technical terms. In the diagram, this appears as a flat line at zero decibels for all sounds. If the line were at 30dB, it would indicate a mild flat loss. This can have a notable impact, making normal speech sound like a whisper. Interestingly, classifying this as a “mild loss” might not truly reflect its effects, given the significant impact it has on an individual’s ability to understand speech.
The term “sensori-neural,” as mentioned earlier, points to potential issues in the hearing system. It primarily concerns the inner ear, where nerve impulses are generated, and the nerves that transmit these electrical impulses. Age and viral infections typically affect this part of the hearing system, contributing to sensori-neural hearing loss.
Another way hearing loss can occur is when the outer and middle parts of the ear fail to transmit sound vibrations to the nerve. In technical terms during hearing tests, this is referred to as “conductive hearing loss,” which involves the mechanical aspects of our hearing. You can refer to the anatomy picture to better understand this process.
To make things interesting some individuals can have a combined hearing loss. This in tech talk is a mixed loss.
To sum up, hearing loss can lead to a lack of clarity in sounds, difficulty hearing quiet sounds, or a combination of both. People with hearing loss often adapt to their “normal” hearing and may attribute communication challenges to others. Loved ones typically notice our hearing difficulties before we do, pointing out instances where we may misinterpret speech as mumbling, especially in noisy environments.It’s always a good thing to have your hearing health checked. Book an appoint and let’s find out how well you are hearing. Have a quick hearing test online here.