About 48 million Americans are living with some degree of hearing loss, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. Of those 48 million, some are facing low-frequency hearing loss. Put simply, low-frequency hearing loss occurs when an individual has difficulty hearing low-pitched sounds. Let’s dive deep into what low-frequency hearing loss is as well as its symptoms, causes, and treatments.
What is Low-Frequency Hearing Loss?
Audiologists and other hearing health professionals test hearing loss at frequencies that range from 250 to 8,000 Hertz (Hz). Also known as reverse-slope hearing loss due to the shape on the audiogram (a chart used to measure hearing levels), low-frequency hearing loss refers to hearing impairment in any of the frequencies below 1000 Hz and means that an individual has trouble hearing low-pitched sounds. It differs from high-frequency hearing loss, which is when someone struggles to hear high-pitched sounds.
There are two types of low-frequency hearing loss, which are each based on the part of the ear that is compromised. Sensorineural low-frequency hearing loss is caused by damage to the hair cells, cochlea, or auditory nerve. Conductive low-frequency hearing loss, on the other hand, is caused by an issue within the middle ear.
Examples of Low-Pitched Sounds
Low-pitched sounds usually come from individuals or things that vibrate slowly. Several examples of low-pitched sounds that an individual with low-frequency hearing loss might struggle hearing include:
- Household appliances such as refrigerators humming
- Vehicle engines
- Phone conversations
- Men’s deep voices
- Children screaming
- Mosquitos buzzing
- Bass in music
- Vowel sounds
Low-Frequency Hearing Loss Symptoms
“Low-frequency hearing loss is in general less common than high-frequency hearing loss, so it may be harder to recognize. But, it makes it difficult for a person to hear low-pitched sounds, such as the bass in music or the sound of thunder,” says Winnie Wong, a clinical audiologist at Amplifon.
Wong explains that the first symptom is typically someone noticing a certain degree of hearing loss. They might also have a tougher time in larger group conversations when there are many voices talking or sounds coming at the at once, especially if there is music playing or background noise.
Low-Frequency Hearing Loss Causes
“Unlike high frequency hearing loss which is typically related to age, low frequency hearing loss is more often a result of genetics or other health problems, says Dr. Sarah Lundstrom, an audiologist practicing in Florida. Several of the most common causes of high frequency hearing loss include:
- Heart disease: Research has shown that those with heart disease and other cardiovascular problems are more likely to experience hearing issues, such as low-frequency hearing loss.
- Congenital birth defects: Congenital birth defects are diagnosed at or from birth and can lead to low-frequency hearing loss.
- Otosclerosis: Otosclerosis arises when a tiny bone inside of the ear, known as the stapes, fuses with other parts of the ear and causes low-frequency hearing loss.
- Meneire’s disease: Meneire’s disease is an inner ear disorder with symptoms like headaches, balance loss, and low frequency tinnitus or ringing in the ears.
- Ramsay Hunt syndrome: Ramsay Hunt syndrome is when a shingles outbreak impacts the facial nerve near one of the ears. It can result in facial paralysis as well as low-frequency hearing loss.
- Secretory otitis media: Secretory otitis media is when liquid or mucus collects in the middle ear space, often due to a cold, sore throat, or upper respiratory infection. Low-frequency hearing loss is often a side effect of this condition.
Diagnosing Low-Frequency Hearing Loss
In most cases, a hearing care professional, an audiologist, will perform a hearing evaluation to determine whether low-frequency hearing loss or another hearing issue is present. “The low-frequency hearing test should include but is not limited to air and bone conduction audiometry. Additional tests such as otoacoustic emissions, acoustic immittance, word recognition, and speech in noise testing can provide additional information,” explains Dr. Lundstrom.
Low-Frequency Hearing Loss Treatments
The ideal way to treat low-frequency hearing loss is through the use of special hearing aids that are programmed to amplify or maximize the hearing of low-pitched sounds without over amplifying higher-pitched sounds. When hearing loss is related to a certain medical condition, treating or managing the condition can help as well.
There is a variety of hearing aid designs that are a good choice for low-frequency hearing loss. Some options on the market include unique features like Bluetooth connectivity, rechargeable batteries, automatic programming, and directional microphones.
“In-the-ear options are an alternative worth considering because they are only slightly visible and have very easy-to-use controls. However, each individual has a specific need, and we can only understand the exact requirement once we’ve had that one on one consultation,” explains Wong.
It’s important to be patient when seeking treatment for low-frequency hearing loss as it’s more difficult to treat than high-frequency hearing loss. It may take some trial and error to find hearing aids that work well and then fine-tune their programming for the best results.
“Some patients may think that because they are dealing with low-frequency loss rather than high, they don’t need to worry about it. However, leaving it untreated can seriously strain your hearing function, so it is recommended to deal with it as soon as possible,” says Wong.
When to Seek Medical Attention
If you’ve been diagnosed with a health condition that may lead to low-frequency hearing loss, such as heart disease, visiting an audiologist for a hearing exam is in your best interest. A hearing exam is also a good idea if you have a family history of hearing loss or simply notice that you have trouble hearing others or need increased volume.
“Tell the doctor your symptoms, what you notice about your hearing, and any medications or other health concerns you have. This will help them determine the cause of your hearing loss and best treatment options,” recommends Dr. Lundstrom.
Even though low-frequency hearing loss might not impact your life as obviously as high-frequency hearing loss, its effects can make day-to-day activities more challenging. Therefore, it’s wise to visit a doctor right away to receive professional advice and learn more about your hearing test results.
Anna Baluch is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. She enjoys writing about a variety of health and personal finance topics. When she's away from her laptop, she can be found working out, trying new restaurants, and spending time with her family.