May 2, 2011

Ask the Audiologist

margaretBy Margaret Christiansen, AU.D, CCC-A
Audiology Consultants, P.C.

I can hear people, but it sounds like everyone is mumbling. What is going on?

This comment is actually pretty common among individuals who have high frequency hearing loss. It is most common for hearing loss to initially present itself in the high pitches. This is a common pattern of hearing loss associated with aging and noise exposure. Individuals with high frequency hearing loss may have very normal hearing for the low and mid pitches and only suffer from hearing loss in the high pitches. Unfortunately, it is the high pitches that carry the bulk of information for speech. Many of the consonants in our language are in the high pitches. When high pitched information is missing, people often complain they can hear but they can’t understand, or that it sounds as if everyone is mumbling. Hearing difficulties may seem worse when people are not looking at you or when you are around groups of people.

Open fit hearing aids were designed with just this type of hearing loss in mind. The open fit hearing aid is a miniature behind the ear hearing aid that uses a small, thin tube to deliver sound to the ear. The piece that inserts into the ear does not completely block the ear canal. This allows the low pitches to be heard naturally. The hearing aid is focused on amplifying the high pitches where there is hearing loss. The result is a normal, natural sounding hearing aid! Because the ear isn’t occluded, people don’t tend to be as bothered by the sound of their own voice or feel bombarded by sound from the hearing aid. People report clearer, crisper hearing.

While no hearing aids are able to return hearing back to normal, properly fit hearing aids can help replace some of the sounds you are missing. Hearing aids can help restore the loudness and clarity of speech, making communication easier and more enjoyable.

Even with hearing aids, it is important for you and those around you to practice good communication techniques. This includes being in the same room as the individual you are speaking to, looking directly at the person who is speaking, and asking for clarification or repetition when needed.

Open fit hearing aids are not appropriate for every hearing loss. There is a wide range of technology levels and styles available in hearing aids. After performing a hearing test, your audiologist will be able to discuss the different types of hearing aids and help select the style and technology that is best suited for you.

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