What sounds get harder to hear with age?

Dr. David M. Vernick, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT Specialist)

As people age, their actual hearing for sounds decreases. They have the most difficulty hearing quiet, low-decibel sounds. But the loss usually isn't uniform across the frequency spectrum. People with age-related hearing loss usually have more trouble hearing high-frequency, low-decibel sounds like a hiss, a whisper or the "s" or "th" sounds that begin a word. Their hearing may be normal or close to normal in the low-frequency range, but moderate or worse in the high-frequency range.

Typically with age-related or noise-induced hearing loss, the damage occurs in the high frequency or high-pitched sounds, and those are the words that give meaning to the sentence or to what is being said. It's the high-frequency consonants that actually make the words mean something. So, if the phrase, "Please sit down on the chair," is said to someone who has a high-frequency hearing loss, they might hear something like, "Ease it own on uh air." It doesn't make any sense. That's because all the high-frequency consonants have been filtered out by the hearing loss. Hearing in the low pitches stays relatively good, so the vowel sounds in speech, A-E-I-O-U, are low-pitched and easy to understand and easy to hear.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.