Consider all the sounds that surround you day in, day out: A child’s laughter, a bird singing, a friend chatting, or a great song on the radio – it is this symphony of sounds that makes life richer. How does hearing loss affect our ability to hear these sounds? And which sounds may those with hearing loss commonly miss? Read on to find out.
Hearing empowers us and helps us lead our everyday lives without limitations. Our hearing enables us to socialise, work and communicate. It also helps us to stay connected to the outside world and it keeps us safe by warning us of potential danger. A telephone ringing or the blare of a fire alarm is just a few examples of important signals that we need to be able to hear.
For most people, the realisation that they aren’t picking up certain sounds is gradual. The whisper of the leaves on the trees, the burble of water over stone, even the ping of the microwave – they’re all sounds that may not be heard as well by impaired ears. Modern hearing aids can bring those sounds back.
If you’re just starting to research hearing loss or suspect you suffer from it, you’ve probably come across a lot of statistics about dangerous noise levels. And yes, hearing loss can result from exposure to loud noise. This information can be confusing or overwhelming because most people are not familiar with sound levels and how loud a certain decibel level sounds.
While most everyday noises (typing, conversation, or the ticking of a clock) are not harmful, some of the things we may hear on any given day can be damaging. Any noise with a decibel level higher than 85 could cause permanent hearing damage. Whether it’s a single damaging event or prolonged, regular exposure to high noise levels is damaging to your hearing.
Low-frequency sounds include dogs barking, lawnmowers, the sound of thunder and speech, consonants like “j,” “u,” and “z”. High-frequency sounds include birds chirping, a child’s squeal, women’s voices and speech consonants like “f,” “s” and “th”.
Let’s look at some of the decibel levels of common sounds. The decibels listed are average — you may experience slightly higher or lower noise levels in your daily life.
These numbers don’t mean much, however, if you don’t have a frame of reference for them. It can be helpful to use normal sounds you encounter every day as a rough scale for decibel levels: Let’s take a look at some common sounds to gain a better understanding of safe noise levels and just how loud a decibel is.
As you can tell from this brief scale, noises can reach unsafe levels rapidly. A lawnmower can be anywhere from 60 to 90 dB and are often in use for several hours. A nearby helicopter can easily reach 105 dB. While most people are not near helicopters very often, 105 dB can also be produced by a large drum.
It is very important to protect your hearing, even when sounds have not reached intolerable or painful levels. Prolonged exposure or even brief exposure to extra-loud sounds can permanently damage hearing.
A young person with ‘perfect’ hearing can technically hear sounds in the 20 hertz to 20,000 Hertz range. However, by the time we reach middle age that range is reduced down to around 14,000 Hertz.
Scientists and sound engineers are still arguing about how much of that range is useful to us. But ask an audiologist and you may be surprised to find that only up to about 5000 Hertz are useful from day to day.
If you have normal hearing, you probably tend to overlook many sounds in your everyday living environment. You might not think about the hum of a computer, the whir of the ceiling fan, or the bang of something being dropped. Age-related hearing loss affects nearly everyone to some degree, and subtle changes sometimes mean that sounds can disappear without people even realising it.
Some people long to hear nature in all its glory again: The sound of the waves on the shore, the birds singing and calling in the trees, the whispering of the grass, or the crunch of sand or gravel beneath strolling feet. Some sounds are subtle and easy to overlook when you no longer hear them.
Everyone loves music but it can be one of the first pleasures to be affected when hearing is impaired. The elegant, high-pitched whistle of a flute, subtle nuances, like the ding of a triangle or cymbal in the percussion. Being able to listen to a favourite song and have it sound just as good as it did 20 years ago.
A person with normal hearing can typically hear sounds from 0 to 140 dB. Someone with mild hearing loss is unable to hear sounds below 30 or 40 decibels, while a person with moderate hearing loss will miss sounds below 50-70 decibels.
Since a lot of speech occurs within this decibel range, a person with moderate hearing loss may have trouble hearing and comprehending conversations, especially amid background noise.
Typically, high-frequency sounds are the first to get lost when someone has hearing loss. The hair or nerve cells in our inner ear that perceive higher-pitched sounds are more likely to get damaged, based on the anatomy of our inner ear.
These nerve cells can get damaged for several reasons, but exposure to loud sounds is one of the most common reasons, leading to noise-induced hearing loss.
Someone with high-frequency hearing loss has trouble hearing sounds in the 2,000 to 8,000 Hz range. They often find it difficult to understand women and children when they speak, due to the high pitch sound of their voices. Certain high-pitched consonants like “f,” “s” and “th” (4,000-5,000 Hz) also might get missed, causing speech to sound muffled or garbled.
In contrast, low-frequency hearing loss means it is more difficult to hear or understand low-frequency sounds, such as the hum of a refrigerator or the roar of a garbage truck. This type of hearing loss is often due to genetic factors, a congenital defect or a malformation in the inner ear.
Hearing is an easy thing to take for granted. Occasionally we might miss a few words, but in general, we move around effortlessly in everyday life, talking to one another, chatting over the phone or listening to the TV, without paying it a second thought.
Things are not nearly as easy with a hearing loss. When hearing loss occurs, a simple thing like following a conversation in a restaurant or hearing the doorbell or telephone can become a challenge.
You may start to experience extreme emotions, from worry to sadness and loneliness. You may also feel tired and irritable from having to concentrate just to hear what people are saying. If left unattended, hearing loss can ultimately lead to feelings of isolation and depression.
If you feel like you’re missing out or having trouble hearing conversations, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your local audiologist who can test your hearing properly. They will be able to make appropriate recommendations on the best treatment for your case.
If you choose to get a hearing aid, you must understand that hearing can never be fully restored. Yes, you will be able to hear easier and clearer. Noise won’t be as big an issue, but there will still be times when you miss things or get words mixed up and that’s ok.
If it’s your first time wearing hearing aids there is an acclimatisation period you will go through. Your brain is trying to re-learn and remember all the information coming in. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to get used to hearing sounds properly again.
Because of this process, you will be much more aware of the sounds you’ve been missing out on for a time. They may even seem to be louder than what you remember them to be, but with perseverance, it won’t be long and what you’re now hearing will be the new normal.
Thanks to the latest technology, there are many products out there that can help you overcome the difficulties of hearing loss. That’s why it’s important to recognise the signs and symptoms as early as possible so that a hearing loss doesn’t affect your health and wellbeing!
Not everyone wants to share the news that their hearing isn’t what it once was. However, today’s hearing aids are so discreet, that they can be worn at home, at work, while outdoors, or in social situations – without others noticing.
Let Attune’s accredited and fully qualified audiologists help you with your hearing needs. We fully understand that hearing devices are important for those who want a fuller life, complete with their favourite sounds. As an independent hearing care provider, we ensure that your hearing aids not only fit properly but meet your individual needs.