Understanding high-frequency hearing loss

By | October 22, 2019

One of the most common types of hearing loss is known as high-frequency hearing loss. This means high-pitch sounds are harder to hear. It can affect anyone of any age, but is common in older adults with age-related hearing loss, as well as people exposed to loud noises. 

Symptoms of high-frequency hearing loss

When listening to people speak, you may struggle to hear certain consonants (such as s, h or f), which are spoken at a higher pitch. As a result, speech may sounds muffled, especially when you’re using the telephone, watching television, or in noisy situations. People with this type of hearing loss often say they feel like they can hear, but not understand

You also may find it harder to hear women’s and children’s voices, as well as the sound of birds singing or devices beeping. 

Illustration showing symptoms of high-frequency hearing loss

Why do I have high-frequency hearing loss?

High-frequency hearing loss occurs when the tiny hair-like sensory hearing cells in your cochlea (inner ear) are damaged. These hair cells, known as stereocilia, are responsible for translating the sounds your ears collect into electrical impulses, which your brain eventually interprets as recognizable sound.

Causes of high-frequency hearing loss

People of all ages can be affected by high-frequency hearing loss—and the reasons causing it are just as varied.

Aging

Age-related hearing loss is called presbycusis. Because this is a slow process that usually affects both ears equally, it’s often difficult to notice. One of the first signs is difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments.

Noise

Millions of Americans have hearing damage due to noise-induced hearing loss. The damage can occur as the result of a one-time, loud exposure to noise, such as a gunshot or explosion, or can occur over time with constant exposure to noise louder than 85 decibels.

Genetics

Check your family history. If your relatives developed high-frequency hearing loss, you may be genetically predisposed to developing it as well.

Medications 

Some types of drugs are ototoxic, meaning they are harmful to your hearing health. Some of the more common ototoxic drugs include salicylates (aspirin) in large quantities, drugs used in chemotherapy treatments and aminoglycoside antibiotics.

Diseases

Meniere’s disease, which affects the inner ear, often occurs between the ages of 30-50 and may include fluctuating hearing loss, tinnitus and vertigo or intense dizziness. In children, chronic otitis media (commonly known as a middle ear infection) can lead to hearing loss if it’s untreated. 

Untreated hearing loss is linked to anxiety, depression and social isolation.

Treatment options for high-frequency hearing loss

A thorough hearing evaluation with a qualified hearing care professional will determine the best treatment option for you or your loved one. Audiogram results that show hearing loss in the 2,000 to 8,000 Hertz range is indicative of high-frequency hearing loss.

A receiver-in-the-ear hearing aid with a dome
Example of a receiver-in-the-ear hearing
aid.

High-frequency hearing loss is usually irreversible. Fortunately, though, hearing aids work quite well for this type of hearing loss.

Typically, the best type of hearing aid for high-frequency hearing loss is what’s known as a receiver in the ear (RITE) with a dome that sits in the ear canal. This style has an open fit so it doesn’t muffle the low-frequency sounds that you still hear naturally. It can be programmed to amplify only the frequencies you struggle to hear.

While some people want to wear devices that are invisible (known as “invisible-in-the-canal” or “completely in the canal” hearing aids), they often don’t work well for this type of hearing loss, because they block low-frequency sounds.

For any hearing aids, keep in mind it may take time to get used to them, especially if you have had untreated hearing loss for a long time.

Health risks of hearing loss

It’s important to address high-frequency hearing loss as its effects extend far beyond struggling to hear. When children have high-frequency hearing loss, it can impede speech and language development, affecting their ability to excel in school. In older adults, untreated hearing loss is associated with a higher risk of cognitive decline, social isolation, depression and injury-causing falls. 

Preventing high-frequency hearing loss

High-frequency hearing loss isn’t reversible, but in some cases, it is preventable. One of the best prevention techniques is to protect your hearing against exposure to noise–especially noise louder than 85 decibels. Keep the volume turned down on your personal electronic devices and wear hearing protection whenever you anticipate being in a noisy environment, such as at the shooting range, when riding snowmobiles, or when attending a live concert or sporting event.

Inexpensive ear plugs are available at the local drugstore for occasional use. If you regularly engage in very noisy hobbies, consider investing in specialized hearing protection such as noise-cancelling headphones or custom-made earmolds, which can be purchased through many hearing healthcare professionals.

Worried you have hearing loss?

If you suspect you have hearing loss, use our online directory of consumer-reviewed hearing clinics to make an appointment to get your hearing tested. Research indicates most hearing aid wearers are satisfied with their hearing devices and enjoy a richer quality of life than those who decide not to seek treatment. 

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