High frequency hearing loss is one of the most common types of hearing loss. The most common symptom of high frequency hearing loss is feeling like people are mumbling when they speak. Millions of people live with high frequency hearing loss, yet a large number of those people do not get their hearing tested because they feel they can cope with it until it gets more severe. Often this means that they have lived with the loss for many years, and this makes it more difficult to adapt to hearing aids. For this reason, it is important for all people to have regular hearing screenings with an audiologist.
What Is High Frequency Hearing Loss?
High frequency hearing loss makes it difficult for people to hear high pitched sounds. It occurs when there has been damage to the basal end of the cochlea, which is the organ of hearing. This damage can be due to the normal aging process, exposure to loud noises, genetics, and certain medications. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, often occurs with this type of hearing loss. High frequency hearing loss is one of the most common types of hearing loss and can usually be successfully treated with hearing aids fitted by an audiologist.
High Frequency Hearing Loss: Symptoms
High frequency hearing loss makes it difficult to hear high-pitched sounds. Soft consonant sounds of speech are high-pitched; therefore people with high frequency hearing loss often say that it sounds like people are mumbling. They feel this way because they are able to clearly hear the lower pitched sounds like the vowels of speech, but they cannot hear the consonants that give clarity to the words. People with high frequency hearing loss may also struggle to hear high-pitched sounds in the environment, such as birds chirping, emergency sirens, or alerting tones like the microwave beeping or the telephone ringing.
Diagnosing High-frequency Hearing Loss
High frequency hearing loss is diagnosed during a routine audiogram (hearing test). An audiogram typically consists of speech detection tests, word recognition tests, and pure-tone tests. The pure-tone test is used to determine the exact frequencies (pitches) where the hearing loss is occurring, as well as the severity of the hearing loss at each of the frequencies. The hearing loss will typically be described by the frequency at which it starts, and the severity. For example, someone might have a mild sloping to moderate high frequency hearing loss above 2000Hz.
What Causes High Frequency Hearing Loss?
High frequency hearing loss is often associated with the normal aging process. Just like many people will need reading glasses as they age, many people will also need hearing aids. The technical term for age-related hearing loss is presbycusis. More than 30% of people over the age of 65 have presbycusis and more than 50% of people over the age of 75 have presbycusis. Age-related hearing loss typically occurs due to changes in the inner ear. These changes affect the inner ear’s ability to pick up and transmit sounds, especially high-pitched sounds. The changes may be related to noise exposure over the course of many years, issues with circulation, or changes to the hearing nerve.
Exposure to Noise
Noise exposure is one of the most common causes of high frequency hearing loss. Loud noises cause damage to the delicate cells in the cochlea (organ of hearing), especially when those noises occur repeatedly or for an extended period of time. The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes to cause damage to the inner ear. For example, a very short but extremely loud sound like a gunshot can cause the same amount of damage as a longer sound such as being at a rock concert for 2 hours. Loud noises affect the high frequency hearing more because of the anatomy of the cochlea.
High frequency hearing loss can be genetic in nature. Certain gene mutations can cause the cells in our inner ears to be more susceptible to hearing loss from aging, noise exposure, or medications. When we inherit this gene mutation from our parents, this is called a hereditary or genetic hearing loss.
Medications that cause hearing loss are called ototoxic medications. “Oto” means ear so these medications are literally toxic to the ear. Ototoxic medications are typically most damaging to the sensory cells at the basal end of the cochlea, so they impact the hearing of high-pitched sounds. Ototoxic medications include certain antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs.
Treatments for High Frequency Hearing Loss
Luckily, hearing aids are very effective in treating high frequency hearing loss. When properly fitted by an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist, hearing aids amplify only the high-pitched sounds in order to bring back the clarity of speech as well as other high-pitched sounds in the environment. The other treatment for high frequency hearing loss is to learn and practice effective communication strategies. Many of the high-pitched speech sounds are very visible on the lips. In addition, lots of important information is conveyed through facial expressions. Learning to pay close attention to these lip movements and facial expressions is called speech reading. For a more in-depth training about coping with hearing loss, consider the 5 Keys Communication training program at www.5keys.info.
What’s The Best Type Of Hearing Aid For High Frequency Hearing Loss?
Most people with high frequency hearing loss still have normal hearing in the low frequencies. For this reason, it is important to choose a hearing aid that doesn’t block the opening of the ear canal. We need to keep that ear canal open so that low pitched sounds can enter it and be processed by the normally functioning part of the inner ear. For most people, an open-fit receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) hearing aid style works the best for this purpose. In an RIC hearing aid, the bulk of the hearing aid sits behind the ear and it is connected to a thin wire with a small speaker on the end of it. This small speaker is the only part that goes into the ear canal, so it does not plug the canal. A small rubber tip called a dome goes on the end of the speaker to protect it and to make it comfortable inside the ear canal. Custom ITE (in-the-ear), ITC (in-the-canal), or CIC (completely-in-the-canal) hearing aids can be used for people who don’t want any part of the hearing aid to be behind their ear. However, it is important that these custom hearing aids are built with a very large vent, which is a hole that goes all the way through the hearing aid. This large vent will allow the low frequency sounds to enter the ear canal and be processed by the normally-functioning region of the inner ear. Regardless of the style of hearing aid chosen, it is very important to choose a professionally-fit hearing aid rather than an amplifier that can be purchased online or in an electronics store. An amplifier will make all sounds louder rather than just the high pitched sounds, and this can cause further damage to hearing.
Health Risks of High Frequency Hearing Loss
When untreated, high frequency hearing loss can impose certain health risks. Because high frequency hearing loss makes it difficult to hear the high-pitch parts of speech, it impairs communication. When it is difficult to communicate, some people avoid social interactions and withdraw. Evidence has shown that this social isolation is a contributing factor to cognitive decline. In addition, there is growing evidence that the presence of untreated hearing loss is the number one modifiable risk factor for cognitive impairment. The communication breakdowns that can occur with untreated high frequency hearing loss can be dangerous when important medical information is being relayed by a doctor. Finally, untreated high frequency hearing loss can be an environmental hazard, as it may prohibit a person from hearing alerting tones such as sirens and smoke alarms.
Is high frequency hearing loss permanent?
While there are some exceptions, high frequency hearing loss is usually permanent. High frequency hearing loss is usually caused by damage to the fragile sensory hair cells in the cochlea. The damage is usually not reversible, so the resulting hearing loss is permanent. There are many promising studies investigating the possibility of hair cell regeneration, but so far they have not been able to accomplish this in human subjects. For hearing loss caused by noise exposure or ototoxic medications, there are times when some of the hearing can return, or further hearing loss can be prevented, by wearing hearing protection or switching to a different medication that is not ototoxic.
Can high frequency hearing loss be prevented?
High frequency hearing loss can be prevented by avoiding the factors that cause it. Avoid exposure to loud noises and wear hearing protection anytime you will be around loud noise (like a concert, loud engine, or machine noise). Custom hearing protection is available and is the most effective because it is made for the specific shape and size of your ear. Audiologists can make custom ear plugs. High frequency hearing loss can also be prevented by avoiding ototoxic medications. Always ask your doctor if hearing loss is a side effect of any new medication that is prescribed to you. If it is, then ask your doctor if there is a safe alternative. Finally, a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent high frequency hearing loss. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly will keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk for common diseases (such as diabetes) that can cause hearing loss.
High-frequency hearing loss: Can hearing aids help?
High frequency hearing loss can be effectively treated with high-quality hearing aids that are properly fitted by a hearing health professional such as an audiologist or a hearing instrument specialist. Inexpensive amplifiers that can be purchased online or in stores will not be effective in helping people with high frequency hearing loss, and can actually cause more harm than good, as they may make low pitched sounds too loud for the user.
Get Your Hearing Tested
Oftentimes, a person with high frequency hearing loss doesn’t know that they have it until it becomes quite severe. This is because it often starts out as a very mild hearing loss and slowly gets worse. This gradual onset makes it difficult to notice when the hearing loss began and how bad it is actually getting. This is why it is so important to get your hearing tested regularly by an audiologist. Even if you don’t notice any difficulty, it is a good idea to get a hearing test in order to have a baseline. This way, if you start to notice hearing or communication troubles down the road, you’ll have a test to compare it to. Hearing testing should be performed just like any other health screening. School-aged children receive regular hearing screenings in school. After that, healthy individuals between ages 18 and 40, without any known hearing loss, should have hearing testing performed every 2 years. As soon as hearing loss is detected, hearing testing should happen every year to monitor for changes and to ensure appropriate treatment is being prescribed.