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Dunnellon Better Hearing: Why can I hear but not understand?

Hearing verses understanding; one word means to perceive sound the other to comprehend the meaning. It is possible to hear everything someone says but at the same time not understand what was said. Imagine listening to someone speak in a foreign language you would be able to hear everything they said; however, unless you spoke that language, you would be unable to comprehend what was said.

Having a hearing loss is similar in that you can hear when people are speaking but do not always understand what the meaning of what they are saying. This is a common complaint that we hear from Gardner Audiology patients. Typically, as the background noise level increases the ability to hear worsens. It is possible if you have a hearing loss to be in a situation where you end up hearing everything and understand nothing.

It is common to lose the ability to hear higher frequency sounds before lower pitched sounds. Many consonant sounds are found in the higher pitches. Which means you cannot hear consonants such as s, c, th, sh, f. What you can hear are vowel sounds and lower pitched consonant sounds (for example a, e, b, g, n, p). Depending on the degree of hearing loss, you hear much less than 100% of each word. There are times when you can piece together enough words in a sentence to understand what is being said and times you cannot.

Distracting background noise will also impact your ability to comprehend what you want to hear. The signal to noise ratio is the loudness of what you want to hear compared to the loudness of what you do not want to hear. A poor signal to noise ratio means that what you want to hear is at or near the volume of what you do not want to hear. The sounds you were just able to hear before suddenly become much more difficult to hear. As the signal to ratio declines so does your ability to understand what someone is saying.

If you can hear, but cannot understand, you are not alone. Don’t give up on enjoying conversations at work, home and play. Hearing aids or over the counter assistive devices can help. To schedule your free consultation with a Gardner Doctor of Audiology or to communicate with one of our insurance experts, please contact 1-800-277-1182 or email info@gardneraudiology.com

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Megan Labbe, B.S., Gardner Audiology Doctoral Extern

Megan Labbe, B.S., Gardner Audiology Doctoral Extern