by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A young man wrote:
My girlfriend has a hearing issue. When listening to music, she cannot hear the high, metallic sounds, like cymbals tapping to a beat–sounds that are produced by the tweeter. Sounds that sound like TSK TSK TSK TSK TSK, she cannot hear. She doesn’t have hearing loss, in terms of volume. What is this? Is there anything to worry about?
Although you say your girlfriend doesn’t have a hearing loss, what you describe shows that she does indeed have a significant hearing loss.
The reason for your confusion is that you are partly right and partly wrong in your conclusion. You see, your girlfriend seems to have normal (or near normal) hearing in the lower frequencies so you are right—she doesn’t have a hearing loss in the lower frequencies.
However, as you have observed, she doesn’t hear high frequency sounds—so she does indeed have a significant high-frequency hearing loss.
You ask, “Is this anything to be worried about?”
The short answer is anything that destroys hearing is something to “worry” about. She should address the cause so she won’t lose more hearing in the future.
I’d suggest she head to an audiologist and ask for a “complete audiological evaluation.” Then you both will know exactly what her hearing is like. (It wouldn’t hurt to have your hearing checked at the same time!)
I suspect in her case, listening to loud music over the years has caused this damage to her high-frequency hearing. In the future, if she continues to listen to loud music, her hearing loss will progress to the lower frequencies and you will notice she then will have difficulty understanding you.
The best preventative is not to listen to music louder than 80 decibels. If the music is louder than a person talking loudly, then it is most likely too loud. In situations where the volume is louder than that, she (and you) should wear ear plugs, or better yet, turn down the volume. Both of your ears will thank you.