Hearing in “Strobe” Can Be Frustrating

March 14,2016 / / 1 Comment

Hearing in “Strobe” Can Be Frustrating…When we test for hearing, we measure how you respond to a series of beeping tones across a broad range of frequencies. Typically this starts at a very low 250Hz (hertz) and continues up the scale to the very high frequency of 8000Hz. We often have people ask us why we check hearing this way when speech isn’t heard in beeping tones, but in words.

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Testing with the beeping tones is critical to evaluate where you do hear certain sounds, and where you don’t. Many people say, “I can hear someone talking to me; I just don’t understand all of the words clearly.”

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Words are made up of a combination of sounds that span the testing range mentioned above. Actually, the total range of speech covers an even larger spectrum of sound, but the vast majority of English words fall in the 250Hz – 8000Hz scale. On the testing chart (“audiogram”), the low tone frequencies are recorded on the left side. This is where many of the dominant vowel sounds are heard. If you put your fingers right on your “Adam’s Apple” and say the vowel sounds, “A…E…I…”, you can feel the vibration from your voice very easily. As a rule, you will also hear these sounds quite clearly. These are the more powerful voice sounds you hear when someone is talking to you from down the hallway in your home, or perhaps from a closet. You know they are telling you something, but you have no idea what they are saying!

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This is the result of hearing some sounds better than others. You likely hear bits and pieces of words. It can be likened to “hearing through a strobe light” – parts of sentences seem to “blink in and out.” For example, you may hear “gold medal winner” as “_old _eda_ __nner” and your brain just cannot comprehend what you thought you heard.  You try to figure it out: “Who is ‘old Eda somebody-or-other’? Who’s he talking about?” And this is how you get into trouble trying to follow a conversation. The speaker’s next words are missed while you’re trying to figure out what you “heard”.

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In the English/American language, we have some vowel sounds in the higher ranges, but this is mainly where some of the more difficult (“soft consonant”) sounds are heard. Again, if you put your fingers on your Adam’s Apple and speak the softer phonetic sounds (“th”, “f” or “s”), you will quickly note the lack of vibration that these sounds create. These sounds are made with the tongue and lips, rather than in the throat. Obviously, these sounds are softer and more challenging to hear than the stronger vowel sounds tested above.

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So… why does all this matter? Most hearing losses fall in the high-frequency range and cause great difficulty for the listener. If you feel like you “hear through a strobe light”, give us a call. Another helpful tool is a hearing test, which can reveal if you need to bring your hearing back into focus. Remember, we’re here to help.

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anil sheth
4 years ago


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