For years audiologists have struggled with a problem that often occurs with extreme noise exposure. With noise trauma, there is often a “blind spot” in the high pitches of hearing. What this means is there are certain speech sounds which, no matter how much you amplify them, will never sound clear. Those speech sounds are most commonly breathy consonants such as “S”, “F”, “T” and “TH”. When you miss out on those sounds, speech sounds distorted or mumbled, like people are not talking clearly.
If the damage is so severe for that set of sounds, traditional hearing aids may not be the answer. Amplifying those speech sounds may actually cause distortion in the ear. The distortion in some cases can make hearing worse with traditional hearing aids. Until recently we have not had tools to address this problem. Now we do.
Through advanced sound processing we can often take sounds that occur in the “blind spot” and lower their pitch so that you can hear them. The sounds are then heard with a part of your ear that still has good survival of nerve fibers and sensory cells. This can often bring back the ability to hear those breathy consonants you may have been missing for years. This is a little different way to hear, so it often takes 1-3 weeks for the brain to fully adjust, kind of like getting used to progressive bifocals. In the first days speech can sound lispy or slushy until the brain learns what to do with the new sound. After that most people notice an increase in speech understanding.
At this time there are 3 companies I work with that provide this frequency lowering technology. Widex, Phonak and Starkey all have a version of this in at least some of their hearing aids. If you have tried hearing aids in the past, but they just didn’t sound clear, it may be time to come and talk about frequency lowering technology. Want to hear more? Call Audiology Center Northwest in Portland Oregon 503 232-1845 to make an appointment at our clinic to find out if this is right for you.