Pitch isn’t just a word associated with singers. It is the property by which sounds are ordered on a frequency-related scale. More often than not, sounds with higher pitches are usually the first to be lost when hearing loss begins and the most difficult to get back. Sounds with higher pitches are also those that seem to increase in pitch as they become louder, often becoming painful to listeners. But what’s interesting is that for some individuals with hearing loss, it isn’t the higher pitches they have lost, but the low ones.
Hearing health advocate, writer and speaker Shari Eberts shares her story about her “check-mark” hearing loss and what it’s like to hear high pitches better than low pitches.
When it comes to my hearing, it’s all about the pitch. Some pitches I hear almost perfectly, others I hear fairly well, and others still, forget about it. This can lead to some awkward situations, where people expect me to have a certain level of hearing, generally based on some previous sounds that I did or didn’t hear. They also expect that I am able to hear all voices equally well, but this is not the case.
My audiogram looks like a check mark, with my high pitch hearing almost perfect. My lower pitch hearing is impaired, and it is the frequencies where speech falls that are the toughest for me. That is unfortunate too since those are the sounds I most want to hear.
The variation in my hearing can cause problems at times. Like in a restaurant, the high-pitched clank of the silverware on the plates can drown out all the voices at the table. This is a particular problem if I am seated near the kitchen or bussing area. Walking down a city street can also be a challenge. I’m not sure if the high-pitched brakes on a bus are painful to everyone, but I find them excruciating. Luckily, my hearing aids suppress that sound most of the time. On the flip side, jackhammers and low-pitched generators do not bother me that much.
Because of my check-mark hearing loss and ability to hear higher pitches easier, it is usually easier to hear female voices rather than male voices. In fact, most of my female friends were surprised to find out that I had a hearing loss, but to my husband, it was pretty obvious. Older gentlemen are the hardest for me to hear – probably a combination of the difficult low pitch and softer volume. Of the important people in my life, my father-in-law is my biggest hearing challenge.
By now, I have learned the voice patterns of all my friends and family, and as you might expect, my ability to hear them varies widely! Naturally, there are some people that I seek out more regularly because I can hear them better, while others I tend to avoid. This is sad, but true. I sometimes wonder if I should choose new friends based on the sound of their voice – it might just make things easier going forward. I try not to do that, but I assume it is self-fulfilling to some extent since I probably enjoy my time more with those that are easier for me to hear.
Having a good understanding of your own hearing can be very helpful. I know when I walk into a situation what my particular hearing challenges will likely be and can then do my best to counteract them. For example, I can try to sit closer to the men at a conference, or be sure to position myself to speech read a particularly challenging voice. I can also avoid areas where high-pitched sounds might be more prevalent, such as near the air conditioner or next to food preparation areas.
Readers, does your hearing vary widely by pitch? If so, how do you handle it?
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer and speaker. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves as the Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation, a non-profit organization funding research into biological treatments and cures for hearing loss and tinnitus. Shari hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing loss. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.