Causes, symptoms & treatment

Our ears perceive many sounds – especially consonants or hissing sounds such as “s”, “f” and “sh” – in the high-frequency range. In contrast, the vowels a, i, e, u and o are within the low frequency range and are less important for speech intelligibility; they sound muffled and convey the volume of speech instead.

Definition of high-frequency loss: people who are experiencing high-frequency hearing loss (“s”, “f” and “sh” sounds) are unable to clearly hear the person with whom they are speaking, even at a normal volume. High-frequency hearing loss limits speech intelligibility even though perception of volume is normal (isolated high-frequency hearing loss). This kind of hearing loss can be treated with the use of hearing aids, which is why extensive consultation and fittings are very important.

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Development and causes

The causes for this type of hearing loss are numerous. However, progressive age and/or sensory hair cells in the inner ear, damaged by noise, are mostly responsible for the loss in high-frequency sounds. So, in this case, one could talk about “noise-induced hearing loss,” as it is mostly loud noises that lead to this form of damage. 

But this is not only a result of unpleasant noise; it could also be that listening to your favorite music too loud or going to one rock concert too many without ear protection can cause this. That is also one of the reasons why there is an increasing number of young people with bad hearing. You can actively protect your hearing from loud sounds by using ear muffs or in-ear protection when you find yourself in a noisy surrounding.

Symptoms of high-frequency hearing loss

As mentioned before, hearing loss of this kind means that speech intelligibility is limited. The perception of volume may be normal, but the person experiencing it often feels that people in their environment “mumble.” Since they usually perceive the volume as normal, the affected persons tend to not take hearing impairment into consideration. However, these symptoms should not be ignored – it is important to treat hearing loss as soon as possible.

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The various degrees of high-frequency hearing loss

The hearing loss can be classified in levels of impairment that vary from person to person in everyday life.

  • Mild high-frequency hearing loss

    Initially, it becomes noticeable when you experience difficulty hearing in the presence of several people speaking simultaneously or while watching TV. This slight hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids – the earlier, the better. An open fitting with a behind-the-ear hearing aid provides the best results.

  • Moderate high-frequency hearing loss

    People with moderate high-frequency hearing loss have difficulty hearing in group conversations. During one-on-one discussions, the affected person relies heavily on the other person’s viseme in order to lip read what they are saying. Additionally, deep male voices are understood better than high-pitched female or children’s voices. This type of hearing loss can cause family members or friends to frequently suggest that the affected person be provided with a hearing aid. Consequently, the best option for this condition is also behind-the-ear devices.

  • Severe high-frequency hearing loss

    These are people with extensive hearing loss and damage to the inner ear. Speech intelligibility is severely limited, which makes the use of hearing aids unavoidable. Behind-the-ear devices are recommended when high-frequency hearing loss is present. When selecting a device, quality should be a decisive criterion.

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Treatment options

The different degrees of high-frequency hearing loss can be treated with various hearing aids. The more severe the high-frequency hearing loss, the more difficult the fitting of a hearing aid. It is highly recommended that a special hearing test be performed. During this test, single syllable comprehension is measured at low volume, i.e. 65 dB, in a sound-proofed room. Comprehension rates should be at least 80%.

Lower levels suggest the need for a hearing aid. After your test, an audiologist must have the devices personally fitted. These hearing aids will then amplify the reduced sounds, i.e. the high frequencies in the event of high-frequency hearing loss. Ultimately, the new hearing system will improve speech intelligibility without an increase in volume.

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