Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Variables of Hearing

Hearing loss can be a really tricky thing. One of the trickiest things I have found to grasp about hearing loss is how it's not always consistent.

For example, just because I heard someone speaking at a certain tone of voice once and was able to understand them doesn't mean I will be able to understand them the next time they speak. Or because I was able to tell where a sound came from once doesn't mean I can do it again. Sometimes I have an easy time of it and hear someone's question right away and sometimes I just can't make it out no matter how many times they repeat it.

Sound Design for Visual Media and Film Production students at dbc sound
Photo by vancouverfilmschool on Flickr.

I particularly notice this when talking to people I know, like my husband for example. He always sits in his big comfy chair in the living room and I am usually in the same spot on the couch - but sometimes I can hear him easily and sometimes I can't.

I think there are a lot of variables that go into whether or not I can hear something/someone on any given day: the noise level, the person's voice, the loudness of the noise, my position in reference to the person/thing making the noise, my familiarity with the noise the person/thing makes, whether I'm inside or outside, how large the room is, if there's carpet, and of course, my mood. My hearing aids might even factor into it, as sometimes when it's humid and they haven't gone through my audiologist's dehumidifier they act differently.

Sometimes it can lead to frustration. Not only on others' part but also on my own - it is embarassing for me to realize I completely missed a sound I usually notice.

I'd like to know your experiences with this and how consistent you find your ability to hear certain noises - what do you think?


  1. I'm same as you too, where I can be with the same person and situation I know well, and hear one day but not the next. Its certainly frustrating.

    But people say like at work who don't me like family, they think if I heard once before but don't hear them next time, that I might be ignoring them. They just don't get it, no matter how you explain.

    I have also noticed how one person has chosen to avoid speaking to me now. Her loss not mine.

  2. I can relate. For me, proximity can make a difference. I was just explaining to a teacher the other day about why I could not hear a certain timer when it goes off. It produces a very high pitch sound. Its frequency is probably in the areas my right ear has a severe hearing loss in (my left ear is profoundly deaf to these sounds). However, if I brought the timer close to my right ear, I can somewhat hear it. If I don't wear my hearing aid, I will not hear it, no matter how close I bring the object to my ear. It is weird.

    Yes, you are right, hearing loss is inconsistent. It depends on a number of factors. It is very hard to explain this to others who don't understand.

    It can be frustrating, but it can be humorous and a blessing sometimes. I was lucky that I could not hear the timer go off in a classroom, while everyone else were driven crazy by it, until someone finally found the timer. :)

  3. My ENT was quick to point out something similar. For most people, losing 5dB after eating a big meal or when they're tired doesn't actually *mean* anything. For those of us with significant hearing loss, though, 5dB can absolutely make or break us.

    My current threshold in speech range is like 85-90dB, so 5dB is a crazy loss!

  4. There are many variables... I'm a speechreader (I've never gotten benefit from hearing aids) and by day's end my hearing is shot, mostly because I'm exhausted by that time, but also because my tinnitus escalates throughout my day. In addition to severe tinnitus, I have hyperacusis (both of these conditions have variables, so I'm dealing with variables upon variables :o), so if either of those things are roaring, then I'm not going to hear as well.

    As you say, it depends greatly on if I'm listening to someone I'm familiar with and am used to. It matters where the conversation is taking place and how much background noise there is, but also I can relate to having two totally different hearing experiences with seemingly the exact same circumstances. It's just a fact -- hearing fluctuates.

  5. I find on days where I'm highly allergenic, my hearing is worse. I was told years ago milk or dairy products often contribute to less hearing as well. If someone tells me what I'm supposed to be listening for helps. Which is why I am dubious about hearing tests and they way they are set up.

  6. As an audiologist, when I face it during hearing test, the time itself can make a 5 -10 dB difference. Fatigue and therefor the ability to concentrate changes during the day. Since we look for the threshold, you have to be focused.
    Another thing I notice is that motivation can have its influence... people can be highly focused (even too focused, which leads to false positive). And on the other hand, kids that don’t feel like trying real hard.
    This is one of the problems with aged driven hearing loss. Folks don’t face the hearing loss at first...



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