Low frequency hearing loss

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What is low frequency hearing loss?

If you’re suffering from low frequency hearing loss, you’ll find yourself unable to hear low-pitched sounds. These include deeper sounds that typically occur in the frequency of 2,000 Hertz or lower, such as:

  • Men’s voices
  • Traffic noise
  • The bass in music

There are two types of low frequency hearing loss:

Sensorineural: damage to or a problem with your inner ear
Conductive: damage to or a problem with your middle ear

So the type of hearing loss you experience is determined by which part of your ear - your outer ear, your middle ear or your inner ear - is affected.

Low frequency hearing loss symptoms

The main symptom is difficulty hearing deeper, lower-pitch, sounds, such as those outlined above and:

  • Planes flying overhead
  • Household appliances
  • Vowel sounds (spoken at a lower pitch than consonants)
  • Phone conversations
  • Thunder

You might also find that you struggle to hear conversations when you’re in a group of people, somewhere with lots of background noise, or in a noisy environment.

The severity of this type of hearing loss also depends on the type of low frequency loss you’re experiencing. Some people only suffer mild loss, which can often be difficult to detect as they don’t notice any issues so are less inclined to seek help, while others suffer a significant or severe loss.  

Despite these difficulties, this type of hearing loss doesn’t usually impact your ability to understand normal speech - though you may find face-to-face conversations easier to follow than those held over the phone or online.

Low frequency hearing loss causes

Low frequency hearing loss has two main causes, which depend where in your ear the problem starts. These are:

Conductive - which is caused by problems in your middle ear.
Sensorineural - which is caused by damage to your inner ear, particularly to your auditory nerve, cochlea or the hair cells that help transmit sound waves to your brain.

Conductive low frequency hearing loss often happens as a result of problems like:

  • Secretory otitis media - where an infection causes fluid to build up in the middle ear, and prevents your eardrum from vibrating properly
  • Otosclerosis - where your stapes bone (a bone in your middle ear) overgrows. This can be caused by autoimmune problems, genetics and viral infections

Sensorineural low frequency hearing loss is usually caused by:

  • Ménière’s disease - a disease caused by a build-up of fluid in the inner ear, which, alongside low frequency hearing loss, can also cause tinnitus and vertigo
  • Genetic mutations - genetic diseases such as Wolfram syndrome and Mondini dysplasia can affect hearing
  • Ramsay Hunt Syndrome - a disease caused by the herpes zoster virus infecting the facial nerve
  • Sudden loss of hearing - this can cause vertigo, tinnitus and low frequency hearing loss
  • Age - hearing changes with age, and this relates to low frequency sounds as well as high frequency sounds
If you’ve noticed any change in your hearing, whether it’s come on suddenly following a period of illness, or is something that’s happened gradually, it’s important to speak to your doctor to address any underlying cause.

Low frequency hearing loss treatment

One of the first steps towards treating low frequency hearing loss is to have a hearing test. This can determine the extent of the loss, and therefore the type of treatment you need.

Of course, treatment also depends on the cause of the condition. Some causes - such as secretory otitis media - can be reversed or get better on their own, while others - such as those that result in conductive low frequency hearing loss - may need surgery.

Our audiologists will assess your hearing and analyse your results so that they can find the best way to help you manage your condition, such as using hearing aids to amplify the low-pitched sounds.

Frequently asked questions

Can low frequency hearing loss be reversed?

Depending on the cause, low frequency hearing loss often gets better on its own, without the need for further intervention.

Where it’s caused by low cerebrospinal pressure or conditions such as secretory otitis media, it can be reversed by addressing the cause. Where it’s caused by otosclerosis, surgery to remove the stapes bone and replace it with an implant can help reverse the condition.

Where low frequency hearing loss is irreversible, hearing aids can help you manage the condition.

Is low frequency hearing loss common?

No - it’s actually quite a rare condition.

This could be because it can be difficult to detect: where it’s not caused by a condition or illness, it often doesn’t cause any issues, and the sufferer usually finds that they’re still able to understand normal speech.

That means they don't realise that they have any problems with their hearing, and are less likely to seek help as a result.

What does low frequency hearing loss sound like?

You’re likely to have low frequency hearing loss if you struggle to hear sounds such as:

  • Men’s voices
  • Traffic or vehicles
  • Planes and other types of transport
  • Household appliances
  • Telephone conversations
  • Bass notes in music

You may not initially notice that you’re having difficulty with these sounds, particularly if the loss is gradual. You may also find that you can still communicate normally when having a face-to-face conversation.

Even if you’re affected by low frequency hearing loss, you will still be able to clearly hear other sounds, such as high frequency sounds. 

How can I improve my low frequency hearing?

While some types of low frequency hearing loss can clear up on their own or by treating the underlying cause, others are irreversible. For these types, hearing aids can increase the volume of low frequency sounds, but it can take time to find the right setting.

That’s because this type of hearing loss is quite rare and can be complicated, so you’ll need to work closely with your audiologist to find the right hearing aid and setting for your particular situation.

Is low frequency hearing loss progressive?

It depends on the type of low frequency hearing loss you have. If it’s caused by conditions that can be treated, then it should improve.

However, if it’s caused by genetic conditions, the type of loss you experience and whether it progresses will be determined by the condition you have.

If you suffer from Ménière’s disease, your hearing loss will become progressively more profound.

Whatever type of low frequency hearing loss you have, it’s important to speak to your doctor to determine the best course of action for managing your condition and preserving your hearing.

You should also speak to your audiologist for help and guidance on managing your hearing loss.

Book a free hearing test with our experts.