Low Frequency Hearing Loss
If you’re diagnosed with hearing loss, your doctor will likely use either the term ‘high frequency hearing loss’ or ‘low frequency hearing loss’.
While both conditions characterise an inability to hear certain sounds, they each have different symptoms and need to be treated in specific ways.
If you have low-frequency hearing loss, then you can’t hear the sounds that occur in the lower end of the frequencies (2,000 Hz or lower). These are the deeper, low pitched sounds.
For example, you might struggle to hear some men with deep voices, the bass in music, or the rumble of thunder.
Interestingly, low frequency hearing loss is less common than high frequency hearing loss and is more difficult to identify. Many people don’t even realise that they’re suffering from the condition, as those with good middle and high frequency capabilities will be able to mask their deficiencies quite well.
Types of low frequency hearing loss
Low frequency hearing loss tends to be a sensorineural hearing loss. This is when the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged.
As these hair cells receive sounds and convert them to signals to be transmitted to the brain via auditory nerves, any damage can hinder the proper functioning of this process.
There is another type of hearing loss called ‘conductive hearing loss’ which is generally caused by some sort of blockage in the middle ear and tends to be reversible. Low frequency hearing loss can be a form of conductive hearing loss, but this is less common.
Symptoms of low frequency hearing loss
Lots of people don’t even notice that they can’t hear low frequency sounds as they can understand normal speech and participate in conversations (which is often taken as a sign that someone has healthy hearing).
Still, if you struggle to hear when chatting in a group or in noisy environments with background noise, then this might be because you have low-frequency hearing loss. Of course, these situations make it more difficult for anyone to hear, but if you struggle in almost all noisy situations, then low frequency hearing loss could be to blame.
Many things can cause low frequency hearing loss, and as we’ve mentioned, these causes can either be sensorineural or (less frequently) conductive.
Diseases (such as Meniere’s disease), age, genetic mutations (notably, mutations in the Wolfram Syndrome gene and Mondini dysplasia), loud noise, low cerebrospinal fluid pressure, Ramsay Hunt syndrome and viral infections can all lead to the condition.
It can also be caused by issues with the middle ear, such as otosclerosis (an overgrowth of the stapes bone) and secretory otitis media (an accumulation of fluid in the ear).
When you go for your hearing examination, a specialist should be able to identify the likely cause of your hearing loss — though it’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint an exact cause.
If you’re struggling with your hearing, then you need to book a comprehensive hearing test with a specialist. They’ll be able to identify whether you have hearing loss, what type of hearing loss it is, and what the best treatment option is for you.
Hearing aids (with multi-channel capabilities) tend to be the go-to treatment option for low frequency hearing loss, as they can amplify low-pitched sounds without over-amplifying higher-pitched sounds.
Still, the best treatment option for you will depend on the cause of your low frequency hearing loss.
Some underlying causes are reversible. For example, if you have low cerebrospinal fluid (from spinal anaesthesia) a blood patch procedure could solve your hearing problems. Plus, if you have secretory otitis media, this usually resolves itself without any treatment. If you’re suffering from otosclerosis, the stapes bone can be surgically repaired (you can have a ‘stapedotomy’) to restore your hearing.
If you have Meniere’s disease, restricting your salt, caffeine, and alcohol consumption can help. As can vestibular rehabilitation therapy and taking a diuretic.
The causes of low frequency hearing loss vary immensely, so it’s important to talk to your doctor to determine the best treatment for your case.