Could it be a hearing problem?
Hearing loss manifests in many different ways. With mild hearing loss and high frequency hearing loss, the only symptom may be subtle difficulty with word understanding, especially in situations where there is competing noise. Certain voices or conversations may be sound garbled, as if others are mumbling. With severe and profound hearing losses, most conversational speech is inaudible and even loud safety signals may not be heard. With some hearing loss, the overall volume of all sounds is reduced. The television and radio are played at louder than normal volume levels, and hearing on the telephone is difficult. Some people with hearing loss also experience a distortion of sound, especially speech. Music may also sound distorted, even when the overall volume of the music is comfortable, leading to a decreased enjoyment of music.
Other symptoms of hearing loss may include asking people to repeat what they say, perception of people mumbling or not speaking clearly, and difficulty hearing when the person speaking is at a distance. In general, in situations where there is background noise – such as in restaurants, family gatherings, parties, etc. - hearing is much more difficult for people with hearing loss.
The impact that hearing loss has on everyday activities is different for each person. Even mild degrees of hearing loss can have a significant impact on people’s lives.
The nature of hearing loss
Why is it that people with hearing loss may seem to hear everything at times, while at other times they have difficulty? To loved ones, it may seem that the person with hearing loss “hears when he/she wants to”. This is usually because hearing loss acts like a filter, filtering out some sounds more than others. Often high frequency (or high pitch) sounds such as consonants are more affected than low frequency sounds. So, a person with a high frequency hearing loss hears some – but not all – speech sounds. They hear an incomplete version of what was said, as if some of the consonants are missing or distorted. At times, it may be easy to predict or guess to fill in the gaps when they don’t hear all the information, based on knowledge of the speaker, the context, and the topic of conversation. If the speaker’s face is visible, our natural lipreading ability also makes it easier to understand what is said. At times like these, the person with hearing loss appears to “hear” everything. At other times, particularly in situations with background noise, when the person speaking is turned away or is at a distance, or when the topic of conversation is unfamiliar or changes rapidly – the person with hearing loss may miss much or all of what was said.