High frequency hearing loss is a disorder that affects a person’s hearing. People with high frequency hearing loss have trouble hearing high frequency sounds.

Exposure to certain types of noise is the most common cause of high frequency hearing loss, and anyone can develop it.

In this article, we discuss the meaning and causes of high frequency hearing loss. We also discuss the symptoms of high frequency hearing loss and the potential treatment and prevention methods.

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People with high frequency hearing loss have trouble hearing high frequency or high pitched sounds.

Sound travels by waves, and high frequency sounds have many waves. People measure the frequency of sound waves in hertz (Hz). Humans can hear sounds from 20 to 20,000 Hz.

High frequency hearing loss is a hearing disorder that can affect people of all ages. Exposure to harmful sounds that are loud or long lasting can cause high frequency hearing loss, but this is not the only cause. Hearing loss can also happen as people get older, as a result of a condition called presbycusis.

Doctors and hearing specialists, or audiologists, also refer to high frequency hearing loss as noise-induced hearing loss.

Some people may have temporary high frequency hearing loss, while others may have permanent damage. High frequency hearing loss may occur in one or both ears.

When sound waves enter the ear, they travel to the eardrum. The eardrum vibrates and sends the vibrations to three tiny bones in the middle ear. The vibration of these bones causes the fluid in the cochlea — a structure in the inner ear — to ripple.

The rippling causes hair cells — sensory cells in the inner ear — to wave. The auditory nerve senses the waving and allows the brain to interpret sound. The auditory cortex is the special part of the brain that interprets the signals from the nerve.

Exposures to some damaging sounds can cause high frequency hearing loss by damaging hair cells in the inner ear. Hair cells cannot grow back or repair themselves after damage occurs.

A one-time exposure to intensely loud noise, such as a gunshot, can cause high frequency hearing loss. The loud burst of noise can damage the tiny bones in the ear.

Continuous exposure to a damaging sound, such as noise from a woodworking or mechanic’s shop, can also cause high frequency hearing loss.

Certain noisy activities can contribute to high frequency hearing loss, such as:

  • shooting
  • hunting
  • listening to music at high volumes through earphones, headphones, or earbuds
  • playing in a band
  • attending loud concerts
  • using a leaf blower

Researchers have identified gene mutations involved in hair cell development and function that may have an association with high frequency hearing loss, such as variants of the MYO3A gene.

Doctors also suggest that certain medications or health conditions may contribute to hearing loss. Drugs that could cause high frequency hearing loss include:

  • aminoglycoside antibiotics such as gentamicin and tobramycin
  • the cancer drug cisplatin
  • high doses of hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19

People who develop high frequency hearing loss may slowly lose their hearing. Usually, damage to hair cells from excessive sound progresses gradually. People may not notice hearing loss immediately. They may ignore symptoms until the effect becomes more significant.

People with high frequency hearing loss may have trouble understanding speech. Sounds may seem muffled or distorted. People may frequently need to turn up the volume on the television.

Extremely loud sounds that cause immediate damage to the eardrum or the tiny bones in the inner ear can lead to rapid, noticeable, and permanent hearing loss.

Tinnitus is a persistent ringing in the ears. Some people with tinnitus may experience a continuous buzzing or roaring sound in the ears or head. Tinnitus typically occurs with hearing loss, with or without loud noise exposure.

Audiologists perform a hearing test to diagnose high frequency hearing loss. They can use data from an audiometer to determine a person’s level of hearing loss. The results from hearing tests help audiologists select the most appropriate treatment approach.

People can use internet-based hearing tests to check for hearing loss. However, not all online hearing tests are equal in quality, so a person should confirm a diagnosis of hearing loss with an audiologist.

Treatment options for high frequency hearing loss are limited. Once a person has damage to their hair cells, eardrum, or inner ear bones, repair is not possible.

Doctors and audiologists can recommend hearing aids for people with high frequency hearing loss.

Another treatment option is electric acoustic stimulation. This treatment combines a cochlear implant under the skin near the ear with a hearing aid worn in the ear. This allows a person to recognize low and high frequency sounds.

Alternatively, a doctor may recommend a cochlear implant alone. Specialized implants are available for people with severe high frequency loss and preserved hearing in the low frequencies.

People with high frequency hearing loss may hear deep voices well but not high pitched sounds such as children’s voices, bells, and alarms.

In conversations, people with high frequency hearing loss may not respond or participate. Straining to hear a conversation in a loud area can be exhausting for a person with hearing loss.

Loved ones or caregivers may find it challenging to support a person with high frequency hearing loss. Starting a conversation about hearing loss requires an open and honest discussion about its social and emotional impacts. Participating in support groups may help people remove the stigma surrounding hearing loss.

High frequency hearing loss may affect each person differently. It is not entirely preventable, but protecting the ears from loud noises can lower the risk.

Practicing good hearing health involves:

  • knowing what sounds can damage sensory cells in the inner ear
  • wearing earplugs or protective hearing devices when exposed to loud noises
  • being aware of damaging sounds in the environment
  • protecting children’s ears from loud noises
  • scheduling hearing tests

It is not possible to prevent age-related hearing loss.

High frequency hearing loss is severe because it can progress, becoming more severe. However, appropriate measures can help people manage it.

Hearing loss may have complications. It can affect a person’s quality of life and social interactions. It can lead to isolation and depression and affect people’s performance at work and in school. In children, it can delay speech development. For these reasons, it is essential to seek help if a person notices that hearing loss is affecting their ability to carry out daily tasks.

High frequency hearing loss due to drugs or medical conditions can be irreversible. However, researchers studying the effects of COVID-19 and hydroxychloroquine use on hearing reported an improvement over time.

Many health conditions and medications can cause tinnitus. Some people, but not everyone, with high frequency hearing loss may have tinnitus.

Tinnitus is a sound in the ears that people describe as:

  • ringing
  • roaring
  • clicking
  • hissing
  • buzzing

People who work in noisy environments, such as factories or construction sites, can develop tinnitus from repeated exposure to loud sounds.

Tinnitus is one of the most common disabilities among veterans returning from war. Exposure to bomb blasts can cause ear damage.

Other possible causes of tinnitus include hormonal changes, heart and blood vessel disorders, and ear infections.

People who notice hearing loss or tinnitus should consult a doctor. Audiologists can help diagnose and treat hearing loss.

A doctor or audiologist can help people with hearing loss prevent further damage. In addition, audiologists can help people manage hearing loss by recommending hearing aids or other treatments.

Consulting a doctor or audiologist to learn about prevention strategies can help reduce the risk of high frequency hearing loss, particularly for people who work in noisy environments.

High frequency hearing loss is a common hearing disorder with many complications, including progressive hearing loss.

The leading cause of high frequency hearing loss is exposure to loud or excessive noise.

Doctors cannot repair the damage to a person’s hair cells, eardrums, or inner ear bones. However, they can offer strategies and recommend hearing aids to improve hearing. In severe cases, surgery may be appropriate.

People can prevent noise-induced high frequency hearing loss. People working in noisy environments should consider wearing protective ear devices to preserve their hearing.