Do I Have Hearing Loss If I Can Hear, But Not Understand?

The process of hearing is not limited to the ears. The brain plays a significant role in the processing and understanding of sound. Understanding involves hearing and focus. It is not just concerned with the effort required to hear a sound, but with the energy needed to process that sound. It is the complex process of receiving sound waves and understanding them by paying complete attention to the words and sentences of the person who is speaking. It is possible to hear things and experience difficulty understanding what you hear.

Hearing And Understanding

Many people present to hearing healthcare professionals complaining that they can hear, but not understand. This situation often involves a hearing loss. Although hearing loss exists in all degrees from mild to profound, the majority of people with hearing loss fall into the mild-to-moderate category with difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds. In this hearing loss, the only symptom is often just difficulty with word understanding. This difficulty understanding is often the case in situations where another noise is competing for attention.

Trouble With High-Pitched Sounds

When a high-frequency hearing loss appears on an audiogram, the results create a slope. The slope indicates that a person can hear low pitched sounds, but high-pitched sounds must be louder for them to be able to hear. Consonants are high-pitched, and it is these sounds that give speech meaning and helps one decipher one word from another. Because of this, people with high-frequency hearing loss have difficulty understanding sounds that they can hear.
If you are experiencing a high-frequency hearing loss, you may find difficulty following conversations in quiet and noisy places. Music may sound distorted, talking on the phone may be a difficult task, and understanding the television may also prove difficult. Not being able to understand what you hear can take a toll on relationships, work, and your general health.

Passed A Hearing Test?

Perhaps your hearing test was excellent, but you still have the feeling that you can’t hear? This situation may be a case of your ears being okay but your auditory nerve or brain having problems processing sounds. Two disorders might be responsible:

  • Auditory processing disorder (APD). APD is a nervous system problem and not an ear problem. It involves the nervous system’s struggles to understand the sounds that come from the ears.
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD). ADD makes it difficult for the brain to grasp what the ears are transmitting. The brain can’t keep up with the amount of sensory information coming in.

A Professional Can Help

If you find yourself being able to hear, but not understand, a hearing healthcare professional can help you. These specialists can diagnose your particular hearing or understanding problem and prescribe a solution that will meet your needs. A hearing aid can amplify those high pitches that you may be missing without interfering with the low-pitched sounds. You might be surprised when you hear sweet high-pitched sounds that you have not heard in a long time.


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Fullerton Hearing Center is privately owned and operated by Monica Fernandez. Along with the rest of the team, the office possesses a strong working relationship and passion for hearing care.

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