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Patients commonly ask why hearing in crowds of people is particularly challenging for them. Person-to-person conversations and even small group conversations don’t cause them any trouble. 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. The same people that have difficulty with crowds, will often also express that they find it challenging to hear and distinguish certain consonants especially S, H, and F.

If this situation sounds familiar to you, it may be an indication that you have suffered some degree of high-frequency hearing loss. Sound comes in different frequencies, and human speech – especially the consonants mentioned above – tends to fall into the range that scientists define as “high-frequency,” between 3000 and 8000 Hertz. In crowds, there is a mix of frequencies, ranging from the low frequencies of background music or people walking or dancing to the higher frequencies of human speech. 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. One of the possible causes for this condition is aging, but high-frequency hearing loss has in recent years been increasing in teenagers and younger adults as well, possibly as a result of being exposed to overly loud music, and suffering noise-induced hearing loss. There are other potential causes, including genetic factors, diabetes, exposure to toxic drugs such as chemotherapy agents, and other diseases.

If you have indeed suffered some high-frequency hearing loss, it can be 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.