Why do I HEAR but not UNDERSTAND?

By definition SPEECH is a complex series of sounds that we make to verbally communicate ideas. We produce a full spectrum of speech sounds from low pitches (voiced sounds from our vocal cords – “ay’ “ee’,’ “I’,’ etc.) to high pitches (ar-ticulated speech sounds from the front of our mouths, lips, tongue, and teeth – “ch”, “f’,’ “sh’,’ “t’,’ etc.) to form our words. To be HEARD those sounds travel through the air to the listener’s ears where the sound vibrations are transmitted through the ear canal, ear drum, and ossicles into the cochlea (the “hearing organ”). Inside the cochlea are micro-scopic hearing hair cells that pick up these sound vibrations and activate nerves to send impulses to the brain for pro-cessing into UNDERSTANDING.

When a person states, “I hear, but can’t understand” it’s important to determine if the problem relates to 1) incom-plete sound pick up (i.e. damaged hearing hair cells), or 2) difficulty processing (i.e. nerve damage, auditory depriva-tion). A thorough hearing evaluation will include, among other things, both pure-tone audiometry tests (to see if there is difficulty hearing certain pitches) and speech testing (to see how well the brain can discriminate speech sounds when they are made loud enough to hear).

When a patient states, “It’s not me, I can hear a pin drop, everyone just mumbles” pure-tone audiometry will usually find that the patient has normal low pitch hearing but that they have hearing loss in the high pitches. Though the pa-tient thinks they hear well, they unknowingly have damage to the part of the cochlea responsible for picking up high pitches, the most important pitches for clarifying speech de-tails!

Call us today to schedule a thorough, no-cost hearing evaluation with one of our licensed providers and get honest answers about your hearing.

Paul Retey is the founder and a hearing aid specialist at Absolute Hearing Care Centers.