(Last updated Oct 6, 2018)

High Frequency Hearing Loss

High frequency hearing loss is the most common hearing loss to have. Remember, high frequency hearing loss is not a type of hearing loss, it can be thought of as the nature of the hearing loss. Sure, most high frequency hearing losses are sensorineural hearing losses, but you could absolutely have a conductive hearing loss that is high frequency in nature as well. The “high frequency” part of your hearing loss refers to your audiometric results (the results of your hearing test).

If you have a high frequency hearing loss, it means that you do not hear tones or parts of speech which are high frequency. In general, this refers to all of those sounds which are above to 2,000 Hz. If you listen to that sound clip, you might get the impression that having a high frequency hearing loss just means you’re not going to hear beeps, dings, various alerts, or squeaks- and maybe that’s not so bad. But the fact is, there are many parts of speech which are above 2,000 Hz as well, and that’s where the problem lies.

The exact numbers vary, but most authorities agree that the frequency range of human speech goes from about 250 Hz all the way up to 9,000 Hz, with the majority of speech taking place in the 500 Hz to 3500 Hz range. If you break down human speech, vowels are in the low frequency range- between 250 Hz and 1000 Hz. These low frequency vowel sounds bring power or volume to speech. On the other hand, consonants are in the high frequency range- between 2000 Hz and 3500 Hz. These high frequency consonant sounds like “s”, “v”, “th”, bring clarity to speech. So if you are suffering from a high frequency hearing loss, it is because you are hearing the vowels properly, but not the consonants. With a high frequency hearing loss, it becomes very difficult to get any clarity out of speech- everything sounds very mumbled. People with a high frequency hearing loss will have a hard time hearing the difference between words like “peach”, “Pete”, “pees”- they can here the “E” sound (the low frequency vowel), but the “t”, “p”, and “s” sounds are high frequency consonants and are very hard to hear.

Causes of high frequency hearing loss

There are many causes of high frequency hearing loss, and sometimes your hearing loss may be due to several of these causes. The majority of time however, high frequency hearing loss is caused simply be the general aging process.

  • Extended exposure to loud sounds
  • 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)

Photo of cochlear hair cells

Cochlear hair cells

So why does high frequency hearing loss actually occur? Tiny hair cells that line the cochlea (a sensory organ inside the inner ear) pick up sound waves and transform them into nerve signals that the brain interprets as sound. When these hair cells become damaged or die over time, those sound waves are not effectively transformed in to nerve signals, so the sound never reaches the brain. It’s the hairs at the base of the cochlea which detect higher frequency sounds, and unfortunately it’s these hairs which are most vulnerable and die first (for the reasons listed above).

Treating high frequency hearing loss

The number one option for treating high frequency hearing loss is hearing aids. Hearing aids magnify sound vibrations so your surviving hair cells can detect those more powerful vibrations and convert them to signals that are then sent to the brain. So essentially, hearing aids are “waking up” hair cells which were not working well enough, and then the hair cells do the rest of the work and send the signals to the brain. This means that when you wear hearing aids, they are only making some sounds louder- not all of them. Hearing aids (when properly programmed) are only going to make those sounds louder which you aren’t already hearing. The result is getting those high frequency sounds back, and hearing speech much more clearly. If you believe you have a high frequency hearing loss, your best course of action is to see a hearing aid provider near you, get a free test done, and start a free trial period with hearing aids. Today’s hearing aids are incredibly intelligent, can be 100% invisible, and are very comfortable- give them a try!

If you’d like a free phone consultation with a licensed hearing provider, please feel free to call us at 800-731-6794.

Jeff Hall Jeff Hall Jeff is a California licensed hearing aid dispenser and the President of ZipHearing- one of the largest discount hearing aid suppliers in the United States. Jeff lives in San Diego, CA with his wife and young daughter. You can learn more about hearing aids and watch Jeff on ZipHearing's Youtube channel.

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