The most common form of hearing loss is ageing or ‘presbycusis’ – which is the lessening ability or inability to hear high frequency sounds. This is called a high frequency hearing loss. Here we talk about the probable causes, discuss the basics of how sound is measured, discover what treatment is available and why early diagnosis is so important for the future of your hearing health.
It is considered common knowledge that age is the biggest cause of high frequency hearing loss. However, it can also be the result of prolonged exposure to loud sounds, genetics, the effects of various diseases and ototoxic medication. This type of medication is known to impact hearing health in both the short and long term. The diseases that are commonly linked with high-frequency hearing loss is Meniere’s, tinnitus and extreme cases of vertigo.
It is more often than not a sensorineural hearing loss – damaging the hair cells (known as stereocilia) in the inner ear. These cells receive the sounds we hear and convert them into signals that are then transmitted to our brains through the auditory nerves. These are explained as electrical impulses that are interpreted into recognisable sound.
To put it simply, a high frequency hearing loss means you are unable to hear sounds that are between 2,000 and 8,000 Hz. Hearing and understanding women’s voices, children’s voices and s, h or f sounds, for instance, is near impossible or inaudible. We age and so do our inner ears and due to this, there are levels of sound we slowly start to not hear or distinguish. Additionally, it is generally more challenging to hear and understand conversations in larger crowds and distracting background noise.
We measure the waves of sound in frequency and amplitude, with the amplitude being how strong the sound wave is. This is recorded in decibels (dB). The louder the sounds the higher the decibel. Normal conversation levels are around 65 dB. To get these levels into perspective – exposure to 85dB can cause hearing damage within 9 hours. Exposure to 100dB can cause damage within 20 minutes. If you are exposed to 120dB or more, you can gain significant damage to your hearing.
Alternatively, frequency is measured in hertz (Hz) and by the number of sound vibrations in one second. If your ears are in good health, you can benefit from a great soundscape of frequencies. - the lowest being 20 Hz and the highest 20,000Hz.
The main indicator that you might have high frequency hearing loss is if you are struggling to hear people in conversations, especially the consonants we mentioned earlier – which are the sounds that are spoken in a higher pitch. Because of this, the sound you hear in speech may be muffled. This is intensified when you are using the telephone, watching television and within noisy environments. Most people with this limited soundscape will often say that speech is audible but cannot be distinguished or understood.
A high frequency hearing loss is often identified with an audiogram by an audiologist at your hearing test. The most successful treatment for this type of hearing loss is wearing hearing aids. Generally, the most recommended style of hearing aid for this type of hearing loss is a receiver-in-the-ear (RIC) model. This hearing aid has a dome that sits comfortably within the ear canal and is an open fit. The open fit allows for a natural sound that isn’t muffled and can be programmed to focus on the frequencies that are the most challenging for you. The more invisible the hearing device the less likely they are to assist with this hearing loss, as they block low-frequency sounds.
Although as we have discussed previously, age and high frequency hearing loss is the main link here. But, for those earlier years, it’s important to remember that it isn’t reversible – but preventable. The best form is to always protect your ears from high levels of loud exposure to sound. Keep your personal electronic devices down to a safe level and anticipate noisy environments before you enter them. Shooting ranges, driving noisy vehicles, attending sporting events or live music venues need be enjoyed safely with ear protection.
There are many ear protection solutions on the market, that are accessible to everyone. These being earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones and bespoke ear moulds.
In older age, you are at significant risk of social isolation, depression, harmful falls and cognitive decline if any hearing loss is not diagnosed and treated. Like with all health problems an early diagnosis is paramount to source the cause and for treatment to be a success.
If you are concerned that your hearing is declining, then contact your nearest audiologist who will then undergo a hearing test. This will assess your hearing capabilities and will guide your audiologist in offering the right advice for you and your hearing using your audiogram results.
Like with all forms and levels of hearing loss - if untreated it will get worse and not only lower your quality of life but over time, without amplification, your perception of sound can change. This limits how you feel connected to the world and can lead to isolation and mental health problems in the future.
If you are worried that your hearing has changed and that your soundscape is very limited, you need to seek medical help as soon as you can. Call our audiologists free on 0800 567 7621 to discuss your concerns and we will help you receive the help you need.
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