High-Frequency Hearing Loss: Causes and Treatment Options

Hearing loss affects nearly 1.5 billion people worldwide.

While a total loss of hearing may never occur, losing a portion of your hearing can change how you communicate and may even be hard to detect. 

Let’s talk about high-frequency hearing loss, which involves the loss of only a certain portion of your hearing.

We’ll talk about what causes it, how it is diagnosed, and what you can do to treat it.

How Does Hearing Work?

There are three parts of your ear involved with hearing. 

  • Outer Ear. The outer ear includes the visible portion of the ear called the pinna and the ear canal.
  • Middle Ear. Your middle ear includes your eardrum and three ear bones, the malleus, incus, and stapes.
  • Inner Ear. The inner ear includes the cochlea, semicircular canals, and auditory nerve.

Hearing happens when sound waves are collected by the pinna and sent down the ear canal.

These sound waves vibrate against the eardrum, reverberating onto the middle ear's three bones. 

These bones amplify the sound waves and cause the fluid inside the cochlea to move.

The cochlea is home to a specialized membrane, called the basilar membrane, which divides the cochlea into two even parts.

On top of the basilar membrane, tiny hair cells begin to move along with the vibrating fluid.

This triggers neurons on top of the hair cells to rush chemicals into the semicircular canals, effectively changing the sound waves into electrical signals. 

The auditory nerve then carries the electrical signals to the brain, and we officially hear the sounds we are familiar with, like music, voices, and birds chirping. 

What Causes Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss can be caused by different life events, illnesses, or aging. Some of the most common causes of hearing loss are:

  • Exposure to Loud Sounds (Noise Induced Hearing Loss). Sounds that register over 70 decibels are considered unsafe for your ears. Exposure to sounds over this level for long periods can cause hearing loss. 
  • Illnesses and Diseases. Some diseases and illnesses can cause hearing loss. Frequent, recurrent ear infections may damage hearing and diseases that affect blood vessel health, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. 
  • Aging. Hearing loss with age is very common. Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, usually occurs in the 65+ population and can dramatically change how a person lives their life.

Hearing loss that only affects a certain portion of hearing or only one ear, is also a common problem. 

What Is High-Frequency Hearing Loss? 

High-frequency hearing loss is a loss of hearing at a certain hertz, which is a measurement of sound.

High frequencies are usually considered those which are over 2,000 hertz. Examples of these sounds include:

  • Birds chirping
  • Certain consonants that spoken at a higher pitch (like F, H, and S)
  • Some aspects of voices that are higher pitched (like small children)
  • Musical notes that are higher on a musical scale

Your ability to hear high-pitched sounds also makes sound clear.

It helps you understand conversations and differentiate voices and other sounds in a noisy environment.

Although it may not seem like losing hearing at high frequencies would be life-changing, it can significantly impact the way you communicate. 

High-frequency hearing loss is a type of sensorineural hearing loss which occurs due to damage or malformation with one or some of the structures in the inner ear.

Most commonly, the tiny sensory hairs inside the cochlea are damaged. Because they do not regenerate, a portion of the hearing is lost when they are damaged or destroyed. 

Symptoms of High-Frequency Hearing Loss

If you think you have high-frequency hearing loss, you can look for signs. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Trouble hearing consonants. People may begin to sound muffled or like they are mumbling when they speak.
  • Inability to carry on conversation in a noisy environment like a restaurant or in a crowd. 
  • Frequently asking others to repeat themselves. 
  • Tinnitus or a buzzing or ringing in the ears that can be constant, or come and go.
  • Having feelings of social anxiety or insecurity from your hearing loss.

A diagnosis from your doctor can help you determine if you have high-frequency hearing loss.

Diagnosing High-Frequency Hearing Loss

Your healthcare provider may refer you to an audiologist for an audiogram to determine whether or not you have high-frequency hearing loss.

This simple test usually involves wearing a headset and responding to different frequency pitches when you hear them. 

Depending on your responses, your doctor may also have you respond to questions about your social activities and your level of difficulty carrying on a conversation and may test your ability to hear voices with background noise.

What Causes High-Frequency Hearing Loss?

The causes of high-frequency hearing loss are similar to those that cause any type of hearing loss. These can include:

  • Aging
  • Exposure to loud noise over time or impulse noise like a gunshot or a firework exploding.
  • Infections or illnesses
  • Genetic malformations inside the middle ear
  • A family history of high-frequency hearing loss or hearing loss of any type

Most of the time, high-frequency hearing loss happens over time and is most commonly noticed as you get older. 

What Are Treatment Options for High-Frequency Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss can dramatically impact your life and make it hard for you to communicate with those around you.

Thankfully, numerous treatment options make it completely possible to enjoy life and regain your confidence by helping you hear clearly and effectively.

Hearing Aids

If the thought of hearing aids makes you picture large, beige devices behind the ears, think again.

Hearing aids have evolved into small, streamlined devices that are very low profile and virtually undetectable to others. 

Modern types of hearing aids can connect via Bluetooth with your devices, and they can automatically capture and correct sounds so that you don’t experience extremely loud or low sounds without the need to “adjust” the volume of your hearing aid. The adjustment now happens automatically. 

Hearing aids use a microphone to collect sound, an amplifier to increase the size of the sound waves, and a speaker to deliver the amplified sound waves to the cochlea.

These can help give you the freedom to hear others speaking and make it much easier for you to hear in a noisy environment. 

Open-fit “miniature” hearing aids are often recommended for high-frequency hearing loss.

These hearing aids are minuscule and help pick up the high-frequency sounds you can no longer hear, amplifying them and giving you back that particular range of hearing. 

Assistive Listening Devices

In some settings, an assistive listening device, or ALD, may be a better option.

For instance, in theaters, auditoriums, or houses of worship where a single speaker is talking to a crowd, ALDs can be worn to help give the listener a clearer and more concentrated audio experience.

Lip Reading

Reading lips is a practice that helps people who are hard of hearing decipher words.

This can be particularly helpful for people who experience high-frequency hearing loss and can no longer hear certain consonants. 

Becoming familiar with the mouth movement that produces those sounds can make up for the inability to hear them and help a person with hearing impairment stay in the conversation. 

Prevention

A part of any hearing loss treatment plan includes preventing further loss.

You can easily practice hearing loss prevention by making smart choices regarding what sounds you experience. 

  • When you’re in a noisy environment with sounds over 70 decibels (like a rock concert or around power tools or lawn equipment), wear earplugs or hearing protection. 
  • Limit exposure to impulse sounds, or wear hearing protection when you’re around them. This includes fireworks shows or at a shooting range. 

Getting routine hearing exams is also important to ensure you aren’t losing your hearing.

Your doctor or audiologist can help you determine how frequently you need an exam.

Healthy Hearing, At Any Age

Losing your hearing can cause you to experience a significant change in how you live your life.

If you’ve had high-frequency hearing loss, there are options to help you hear again. 

Check out the USA Rx blog for more information and tips on managing your hearing loss.

You’ll also find information on leading a happy and healthy lifestyle and tips for combatting some of the most common health problems you may face.

References, Studies and Sources:

Deafness and hearing loss | WHO 

Hearing Loss: A Common Problem for Older Adults | National Institute on Aging 

Sensorineural Hearing Loss | ASHA 

High-frequency hearing loss: Can hearing aids help? | Mayo Clinic 

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Angel Rivera Physician
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