How We Hear

The physiological process of hearing sound and the cognitive process of interpreting it into meaning is amazingly complex and yet occurs instantaneously hundreds of times per day without us even being aware of it.  But hearing well and effortlessly is taken for granted… until you start realizing that you are struggling to hear what you want to hear. This video explains the normal process of hearing.

Sounds are composed of a broad spectrum of pitches (also called frequencies). Some sounds, like a foghorn, a bass guitar, and a vowel, are composed of lower frequencies. Other sounds, like birds chirping, crisp consonants, and wind chimes, are composed of higher frequencies. The pattern in which the frequencies combine and modulations they develop over time give you information and cues to help you understand, focus on and locate sound.

Hearing sounds is a key way in which we communicate and connect with people around us, through conversations with loved ones, to enjoying a shared musical performance, to noticing the richly varied and natural sounds of the places we like to visit. It is also important in communicating to perform our job functions as well as to relax and enjoy programs on television.

Effects of Hearing Impairment

Hearing impairment is most often diagnosed by an audiologist, who measures the sensitivity of your hearing thresholds at different frequencies. As hearing deteriorates in certain frequency ranges, you miss out on hearing the full spectrum of cues which help you perceive the sounds around you naturally and effortlessly. If you have low frequency hearing impairment, you may notice that things don’t sound as full or as rich, or that you have to ask people to speak up or turn up the volume on the television. If you have higher frequency hearing impairment, you may notice that it is harder to hear only in noisy environments like restaurants.

In addition to the reduced hearing sensitivity, there are other effects of hearing loss which are not as easy to measure but have a big impact on quality of life. These include the increased effort in situations where you are trying to communicate and embarrassment at not being able to follow conversations naturally. These types of interpersonal communication barriers can lead to reduced engagement in social situations, reduced desire to participate in social situations due to the stress and effort of straining to communicate, and feelings of isolation.