High Frequency Hearing Loss
Though we tend to talk about ‘hearing loss’ in the broad sense with our friends and family, there are actually many types of hearing loss.
If you struggle to hear high-pitched sounds, then you suffer from high-frequency hearing loss.
What is high frequency hearing loss?
As with other forms of hearing loss, high-frequency hearing loss occurs when the hair-like hearing cells (stereocilia) in your inner ear (the cochlea) suffer permanent damage.
As these inner hair cells are responsible for translating sounds into electrical impulses for your brain to interpret as sound, damage can cause compromised hearing.
Types of high frequency hearing loss
High frequency hearing loss can be classified as sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, or a combination of the two.
Sensorineural is more common and occurs when the auditory nerve or inner ear hair cells are damaged. This type of hearing loss tends to be permanent but can be helped with hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a blockage or a build up of wax in your ear or your middle or outer ear structures have been damaged. In some cases, this type of hearing loss can be reversed.
A hearing specialist will be able to tell you which type of hearing loss you have when you go for your hearing test.
Symptoms of high frequency hearing loss
As we’ve already mentioned, if you have high frequency hearing loss, then you’ll struggle to hear high-pitched sounds (those that range from 1,500 to 6,000 Hertz). This inability might become apparent when trying to hear women’s and children’s voices (as well as birds tweeting and the beeps from reversing trucks) as they are naturally higher in pitch.
Some consonants (f, h, and s) that are sounded out at a higher pitch to other letters might be tricky to hear too. Friends might sound like they’re muffling and you’ll probably struggle to hear people on the telephone.
If making out speech from the TV is suddenly a strain and you find you’re no longer able to hold a conservation in a noisy place, then this form of hearing loss might also be to blame.
There are a few different reasons why an individual might develop high-frequency hearing loss, including:
Old age is one of the most common causes or hearing loss. As you get older, your chance of developing age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) increases. As this usually develops slowly over time and both your ears tend to be affected, it can be difficult to notice at first.
Do you have relatives that developed high-frequency hearing loss (for no identifiable reason)? You may have a genetic predisposition to develop this condition yourself as you get older. Find out whether there are any cases in your family.
Constant exposure to sounds louder than 85 dBA or a one-off exposure to an extremely loud sound can trigger high frequency hearing loss. You’re more likely to be affected If you work in a noisy environment (for example, as a builder, live musician, or heavy machinery operator).
Certain medications (often referred to as ototoxic drugs) can compromise your hearing health. If you experience hearing loss symptoms and you’ve been taking aminoglycoside antibiotics, salicylates (such as aspirin in large quantities) or chemotherapy drugs, then you need to speak to your doctor.
Disease and illness
Some untreated diseases can lead to hearing loss (both high and low frequency) as well as tumours and middle ear infections.
Meniere’s disease of the inner ear often leads to hearing loss, vertigo, or tinnitus. In children, untreated chronic otitis media (an infection of the middle ear) can also lead to hearing loss, as can diabetes as a result of nerve and blood vessel damage.
High-frequency hearing loss tends to be irreversible, but hearing aids can help the symptoms. As they can take the higher frequency sounds and lower them to an easily audible frequency, many wearers report a significant improvement in their hearing.
The open fit receiver in the ear (RITE) hearing aid has a dome that sits in your ear canal and is particularly effective at helping those with high frequency hearing loss. It doesn’t muffle the low-frequency sounds that you can still hear and can be set to amplify the specific frequencies you struggle to make out.
Which hearing aids aren’t so beneficial for high frequency hearing loss? ‘Invisible-in-the-canal’ or ‘completely in the canal’ hearing aids block low-frequency sounds, so they can make it harder for you to hear the sounds you’re naturally able to understand without assistance.
As always, it’s important to get your hearing assessed by a professional as they’ll be able to suggest the best device for your specific hearing needs. Plus, if you can get an early diagnosis — even better. Untreated hearing loss can lead to other health conditions in the future, so it pays to seek help as soon as you notice your hearing issues.