Am I deaf?
April 23, 2007 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to be hard of hearing, without having anything wrong with your ears?

All my adult life I've been very slightly deaf. But it's a weird kind of deafness. I can hear a pin drop in a quiet room (as I type this, I can hear the clock ticking in the next room). But put me somewhere with background noise, such as music or people talking, and I just lose the ability to hear anybody more than a metre away. I assumed everybody was like this until I realized colleagues and friends had no problems talking in noisy pubs, or in noisy offices. In comparison, all I hear are snippets of words and lots background noise. In some situations I have an annoying pained expression as I try and understand what people are saying. I also have another annoying habit of turning my left ear toward people when I can't hear them, and sometimes even cupping my hand around my ear. Because I can hear a whisper in a quiet room, I suspect my "deafness" isn't anything to do with my ear's inner workings, but might be psychological—maybe something to do with being unable to process complex sounds? I dunno. Background info: My dad is also slightly deaf, and was once prescribed a hearing aid, which he doesn't wear. And I love peace and quiet, and get easily irritated by noise. I suspect there's an obvious answer here. Help me find it, hive mind!
posted by humblepigeon to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I'd love to know why, too, but according to this article on the cocktail party effect it's not well understood how most people do that. We have neurological differences. I'm very sensitive to small sounds as you are, but I have no problem with picking out one stream from a jumble of sound.
posted by Listener at 2:08 PM on April 23, 2007

IANAD, but I do suffer from hearing loss. I'm about 40% of normal hearing in my left ear.

It could be a number of things, including a damaged eardrum or buildup of fluids, and/or it could be psychological, as you described. The two are by no means mutually exclusive.

One thing to keep in mind is that, for people with hearing loss, it actually takes a lot less noise to make us uncomfortable than it does for people with normal hearing. I have to cover my ears when a truck goes by, and yet I can't hear my wife talking to me in the next room.

If possible, make an appointment with an ear-nose-throat doctor. The doc might refer you to an audiologist. If nothing else, you'll learn about how your ears work.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:10 PM on April 23, 2007

I don't know anything about actual pathology or degree of variation, but people in general having differing capabilities for auditory attention/attenuation in different settings. (I do fine in conversation at a noisy bar, for example; my wife not so much—and yet she has sharper ears than I do quieter circumstances.)

It's not a bad idea to talk to an ear doc, especially if you haven't done so recently (or ever!), but it may well be that you just do poorly in noisy environments for reasons that amount to nothing more than healthy, normal person-to-person variation.
posted by cortex at 2:17 PM on April 23, 2007

That's amazing. I'm exactly the same way, even down to the left-ear preference! My hearing acuity is good in general, though it hasn't been tested in a while (I've had this problem for as long as I can remember.) I often pick up on (and am annoyed by) sounds that others don't notice, but I'm incapable of comprehending conversation with background noise. It's orders of magnitude worse when the background noise is also intelligible speech, like in a restaurant/cocktail party scenario or even if there's just a TV or radio on in the background.

It's not so much that I hear "snippets" as you're describing, but that I can't keep focused on the thread of a single speaker when other speech is competing for my attention; suddenly I'm listening to something else and the voice of the person who's talking to me becomes "background noise". I was diagnosed ADD as a kid, and would interested to hear if you've had similar experiences. I haven't found a satisfactory solution, other than "stay out of noisy bars."
posted by contraption at 2:33 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sounds like some relative of Central Auditory Processing Disorder to me. I have this problem too (I don't think I'm disorder-level) and it's much, much worse when I've had any alcohol. Which is annoying, since generally when I'm in a crowded party-style environment the beer and hard liquor is flowing pretty freely...and my boyfriend mumbles. It's like a perfect storm of non-comprehension.
posted by crinklebat at 2:34 PM on April 23, 2007

I also have partial hearing loss (medically documented since childhood) in much the same manner as what you've described, but not as pronounced. I have more hearing loss at certain frequencies than at others, but I also have the background noise problem. Oddly, in some situations I can muffle my hearing somewhat (with headphones or earplugs) and then hear some things that I probably wouldn't be able to hear otherwise--like people having conversations outside my apartment window.

I've had a long history of ear problems though--I almost constantly had PE tubes in my ears when I was a kid, but my hearing loss predates even that. I'm now trying to destroy what little hearing I have left by going to concerts all the time.
posted by LionIndex at 2:34 PM on April 23, 2007

I have the exact same problem! I've even gone the extra step and had my hearing tested twice, by two different doctors (though both were just general practitioners, not specialists). Both said that I should be able to hear fine and had no advice. I'd resigned myself to the lazy conclusion that my hearing is just "lazy" or that I am mentally lazy and unwilling to differentiate between background noise and pertinent noise. However, you have given me hope (I'm not sure why). I eagerly await everyone's answers. Even if everyone just tells us to go to the doctor again. At least I'll know I'm not alone. And this time, I'll insist on a referral to a specialist. (Especially now that I have healthcare.)
posted by sa3z at 2:34 PM on April 23, 2007

Oh, and I prefer the left ear too, but suspect it's because I hold a phone with my right hand and so I have slight hearing loss in my right ear compared to my left...

Lipreading really, really helps me. My worst nightmare is a phone interview with an accented person. I cannot understand accents at all without watching lips.
posted by crinklebat at 2:36 PM on April 23, 2007

Should've previewed. Contraption, you've described it perfectly; it's the competing for attention feeling (maybe that's why I feel lazy? I just give up.). I haven't been diagnosed with ADD, but I've never gotten checked either. That's an interesting correlation that never occurred to me (see? lazy.). I'll stop piggy-backing now.
posted by sa3z at 2:39 PM on April 23, 2007

This is just about exactly my problem too, humblepigeon, except I have some pretty serious tinnitus. But what I think caused my hearing problems was that I was deaf as a baby due to fluid blockage in the ears, for around a year. My theory -- and I haven't really looked this up -- is that while I was deaf, I missed out on some crucial brain development wrt hearing, and sometimes I can't understand what people are saying (especially with background noise) unless I'm looking right at them.

Is it possible you may have had a fluid blockage at a critical stage as well? Perhaps you should ask your dad if he had your ears drained at some point in your childhood.
posted by the dief at 2:50 PM on April 23, 2007

Response by poster: Contraption:: It's orders of magnitude worse when the background noise is also intelligible speech, like in a restaurant/cocktail party scenario or even if there's just a TV or radio on in the background.

Yes! That's it! it's not just the background noise but the nature of the noise. I used to object to people playing music in the office because I was unable to stop myself listening to it, and therefore couldn't concentrate. Rap music was the worse because I have to listen to the voices. Are you like that too?

In conversations set against lots of background noise, I get snippets of words if I really concentrate, and often try and construct the sentence using common-sense. More often I just laugh and say, "Yeah!". That seems a good universal answer to almost any sentence.

Keep it up, fellow MeFi-ers! We're getting close to sorting this out (or at least forming an institution).
posted by humblepigeon at 2:51 PM on April 23, 2007

I noticed my previous linked has another one at the bottom for auditory processing disorder. That might be your answer.
posted by Listener at 2:55 PM on April 23, 2007

It sounds a bit like an auditory processing disorder. An audiologist could probably help you get started on a diagnosis.
posted by carmen at 2:58 PM on April 23, 2007

I was just about to link to that article after crinklebat's suggestion, carmen. Yeah, that sounds like me.

The article links to a ton of potential strategies to mitigate the problem, but they caution "No one program is a cure or help all for APD." Thanks crinklebat, and thanks to humblepigeon for asking the question!
posted by contraption at 3:02 PM on April 23, 2007

Response by poster: Sadly I don't think APD is my problem. The Wikipedia article says, "[APD sufferers] may be able to repeat the words back word for word, but the meaning of the message is lost."

That's not my problem. I just don't hear what people are saying. Here's an example, and this was when I first realized I had this problem. I'm in a very crowded bar with work colleagues after work. Some have managed to snag a table, but I'm standing at the end of it with three or four others.

A woman sat at the table starts taking to a guy standing next to me. They chat, and I'm astounded that the guy can hear what she's saying. I can barely hear what he's saying. Then the woman starts talking to me. I can see her now in my mind's eye—I'm looking at her, seeing her lips move, but I can't hear a darned word she's saying. All I hear is a thousand other people talking.
posted by humblepigeon at 3:12 PM on April 23, 2007

Huh! Replace "father" with "mother" and you pretty much have me. One main issue I've noticed is that even if I hear something from them (and this comes only after a while of "huh"ing), I still can't understand a word. It does sound like mumbling, and I have to ask them multiple times what they're trying to say.

I have been suspected of ADD (never got round to being tested, just commented upon by a doctor) so maybe there's a connection?
posted by divabat at 3:25 PM on April 23, 2007

I have this too to some extent. A few months ago I read about a study where they had looked at people's ability to make out conversations in loud environments. The article mentions that this is one of the hardest social tasks for the brain to carry out and that it is thus one of the last abilities that people learn - those who master this skill don't get properly good at it until their early twenties. Teenagers generally can't do it very well apparently. Does anybody recognise my description of this enough to provide a source?

I had uncorrected short sight for a while when I was a teenager and I was quite shy. My guess is that most other people have learned to lip read better than I can and that this helps give them the edge in working out what is going on. I have considered trying to teach myself to lip read a little better but am unsure how to do this.

Have a look at this thread too.

posted by rongorongo at 3:44 PM on April 23, 2007

Sadly I don't think APD is my problem. The Wikipedia article says, "[APD sufferers] may be able to repeat the words back word for word, but the meaning of the message is lost."

Hmm. I didn't notice the bit of the article you quoted, and that's also not true in my case. I do find that if I really concentrate I can reconstruct the noise of unrecognized speech into words by sort of back-parsing it, but it happens at a near-subconscious level. I certainly don't have trouble interpreting words that I can repeat back.

Someone can start talking to me and I'll be listening and understanding, then someone in an adjacent conversation will say something familiar/interesting that very briefly snags my attention and I must wrench my focus back to the original speaker, who by this time is several words ahead of what I've absorbed. It takes a moment to sync back up with what they're saying, but once I do I often find I can somewhat automatically extrapolate (based on what they said before, what they're saying now, and certain cue sounds from the bit that slipped by as "background noise") their entire sentence.

Your scenario with the woman whose entire vocalization goes by unintelligibly sounds like what happens to me if I don't catch those first few words, and am unable to "sync up" before she finishes talking. There's a very distinct "click" where the noise changes to words or vice versa, and if you don't have any words to start from you can't really decipher the noise part. Getting that sync is harder in mid-sentence, because you can't assume anything about the syllable you're currently hearing, and you sit there trying to play catch-up until they finish talking. Then they look to you for a response (you've been staring intently at them the whle time) and all you can do is laugh and nod. (Dammit I hate bars.)

I don't think you should discount APD as a label for what's happening with you; as they say in the article, it's an umbrella term for a variety of problems, and I doubt anyone would match every single one of the symptoms they list.
posted by contraption at 3:45 PM on April 23, 2007

I've been 100% deaf in my right ear since early childhood, most likely due to a nerve problem as my eardrum is unharmed. I've always had a very hard time processing things like speech in sound rich environments, but I've always put it down to my inability to triangulate sounds. All audible noise sounds like it is coming from the same direction (although some are louder and further away than others) for me and I figure that it diminished my ability to separate things like speech from everything else.

Since you haven't mentioned having diminished hearing in one ear, I doubt this really helps you but there are several other posters in this thread who might be experiencing, to a lesser degree, my same problem.
posted by nerdcore at 3:46 PM on April 23, 2007

I have this problem too. Apparently the specific symptom of being unable to pick out a voice in a crowd can be an early indicator of general noise-induced hearing loss within a certain frequency range (scroll to "The effects of hearing loss"). So it could be something as simple as that, rather than a neurological problem specifically related to your not possessing the cocktail party effect.
posted by chrismear at 3:47 PM on April 23, 2007

Humblepigeon, you describe my condition quite well, with a couple of exceptions. I've suffered from tinnitus for about 30 or 35 years (I just turned 59), depend on lip-reading in a lot of situations, and can barely understand the person I'm talking to when there is background noise like other people talking or music.

There's one possibility all of you wonderful respondents may have overlooked. I was diagnosed with this a year ago (after tinnitus in the right ear got markedly worse and my hearing got much worse) -- the diagnosis was/is a tiny tumor on my right auditory nerve. The neurologist called it a vestibular schwannoma (or acoustic neuroma).

I was scared out of my mind when I heard "brain tumor," but tests confirmed it's benign. I could have had surgery, but the tumor was also close to the nerve that controls facial movement. The docs said the instant they cut the tumor off the auditory nerve, that would render me permanently deaf in my right ear. They also could or would not guarantee that they couldn't/wouldn't cut into the facial nerve. I did NOT like that option. Radiation is the other therapy; I have not undergone that because I just lost my health insurance, and the radiation costs many thousands of bucks. Ain't life a beach?

Anyway, you want to see a good ear doc, audiologist and/or a neurologist. You might have a vestibular schwannoma -- or not. Whatever the diagnosis, keep on lip-reading, stay out of noisy bars and concerts, and keep turning your left ear toward your listener(s); if they don't like that habit, that's their problem, not yours. After all, you could just turn your deaf ear like I sometimes do. Good luck!
posted by Smalltown Girl at 3:49 PM on April 23, 2007

I have it as well, yet my general fidelity of hearing is very good. I don't find it a problem though.. I just listen to one thing at a time and don't really listen to anyone in noisy environments (or pretend I did!) .. so yeah, to 12th/13th/14th the comments above, it exists and it's not necessarily 'deafness'.
posted by wackybrit at 3:52 PM on April 23, 2007

I have a similar problem. I've decided it's related to my ADD and my inability to filter things out that other people can. I can't have conversations in crowded places; I can't hear what other people are saying and I frequenty lose my own train of thought while speaking if there's sufficient background noise.

My parents used to think I was deaf (or at least on the way to becoming so) because I listened to headphones at top volume to drown out background noise that made it impossible for me to hear the music. Yet I can hear my phone vibrate
from several rooms away, and can listen to headphones at the lowest setting if there's no other noise in the room. There's nothing physically wrong with my hearing. I believe it's an attention issue (so, psychological). Do you have any other symptoms of ADD?
posted by cosmic osmo at 4:00 PM on April 23, 2007

You didn't mention vertigo, but just in case: Meniere's Disease? I work with someone who has it, and she has a hard time hearing when there's background noise.
posted by mingshan at 4:37 PM on April 23, 2007

Same here.

My actual acuity (e.g., as measured by whether I can hear tones of various frequencies and amplitudes) is perfect for my age (29), but if I'm in a room with even as few as 5 or 6 people talking at the same time, I find it nearly impossible to understand what anyone is saying, no matter how hard I concentrate on just one voice.
posted by dmd at 5:02 PM on April 23, 2007

Add me to the list. I'm 21 and have had mild tinnitus my whole life (I wonder if it may have something to do with being born very prematurely), which seems to have little affect on my actual hearing ability. I'm constantly bothered by the quiet, high-pitched sounds TVs and other electronics make, so I wouldn't say it's hearing loss per se, but at the same time it's next to impossible understanding people in a noisy room. Both my dad and grandma have some hearing loss to varying extents and my dad has been diagnosed with Meniere's disease.
posted by flod logic at 7:41 PM on April 23, 2007

Same problems here. I've always assumed it's CAPD/APD and left it at that. Most APDers learn naturally how to cope by lip reading, replaying conversations, avoidance, etc.

I hear the strangest noises that others don't. A car alarm far far away. A squeaky door across a big office building, that I just have to oil for my own sanity. Whispers...

But, in a restaurant, party, or any environment with more than 1on1 interaction, I'm lost. I know it's not an attention thing for me. It's not that one voice overtakes the other briefly. Instead, the competing sounds blend and just jumble each other. Totally trashes whatever conversation was going on.

Also, I find this is much worse with voices I'm not very accustomed to. The waiter asking me "diet or regular" over the clanking dishes, footsteps, music, and general chatter, I can't hear. The coworker sitting across table from me, they can repeat the waiter and I understand them fine within 1st or 2nd repetition (almost always 1st).

Issues with certain (mostly male) voices that blend into normal environment background noise. Quiet kitchen at work, nothing but fridge hum, AC, vending hum, etc. Nobody else around, talking 1on1 and it's like he's not even talking English. That kind of thing. It's rare, but it's always the same people. Problem is, they have a mostly monotone voice and I can't read them well to fill-in-the-blanks. But, we're in such a quiet enviro that I shouldn't have to. I think it's that special combo of their voice and monotone, iow.

Finally, I miss words because of the competing noise trashing all the time. Most people have learned to not start talking to me until they actally have my attention, because I won't pickup the first words. But, I still miss stuff all the time, in the beginning, in the middle, near the end, and it's always a case of replay/rewind/hurry up. Then, I sit there like I'm mentally slow, staring at them, intensely focused on catching up, and they're waiting for me to respond... sigh.

I replay conversations alot more than I'd admit to amongst those who know me. I keep the subtitles on the TV because I was tired of missing snippets. I have to anticipate the subject matter before being able to hear it.

If you want a diagnosis, go to doctor. Otherwise, it sounds like APD and there's lots of help via forums and sites online, although most are geared toward kids in classroom settings.
posted by ick at 8:13 PM on April 23, 2007

Oh wow, Nthing the me too, though I don't know what it is. Could you have ADD or hypersensitive hearing? (I am 28 and can often hear the high frequency animal repellent devices that are sometimes used at entrances of shopping plazas. If I stand around too long I get nauseated and must scurry along with the rats and dogs.)

Do you have any trouble any trouble with singing? I can sing pretty well acappella or with light acoustic instrumentation, but sing along to a CD or, god forbid, attempt to harmonize? I can't make sense of all the noise and what ends up coming out of my mouth is truly dissonant and horrible. Maybe I'm just a bad singer in addition to the cocktail party syndrome, but perhaps there is a correlation.
posted by QueSeraSera at 8:16 PM on April 23, 2007

I realize this doesn't really answer your question, but hearing aid technology has improved vastly in the last decade or so.

From the Wiki entry: Many hearing aids now have directional microphones, which can be a major improvement in crowded places such as restaurants and open-plan offices ...

I have severe hearing loss, but these things pretty much saved my social life.
posted by YamwotIam at 8:29 PM on April 23, 2007

I, too have the same problem with noisy enviroments. I have always hated live bands, DJ's or any backround noise. My hearing is tested annually, (job requirement). My doctor tells me that I am not hearing middle frequencies and tones. High and low I'm fine, but for some, I just can't hear and rely on lipreading.

Certain doorbells seem to give me problems. I've replaced mine to the buzzer type. I have a very hard time hearing my oldest son speaking. I just can't make out the words, to me it sounds like he is mumbling. Asking him to speak up is just louder mumbling, although others have no problem understanding him.
posted by JujuB at 8:44 PM on April 23, 2007

I have had damage to my ears & lost a lot of tones, and yet I do very well in hearing tests. When I'm listening for things, or if the noises contain treble, I can hear very well. Yet if I'm in a loud bar I have to read lips. I miss many low tones, and someone could be standing behind me talking to me for minutes with me having absolutely no idea there's anyone there. I won't hear a thing. Drives me (and my friends) batty.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:22 PM on April 23, 2007

I don’t have your problem in my first language—I can understand people in noisy bars fine—but I do in my others, or occasionally when it’s an accent in my first I don’t have much experience with. Which seems to indicate it’s a learnable thing, at least for me.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 3:43 AM on April 24, 2007

No kidding... had no idea there were this many. Add me to the list as well, but I've got some additional data. I get migraines so I've had a few MRIs on my head, and nada. I just had a hearing test done and nada there too. Everything is fine. That makes me think it is a software problem, not hardware.

What's interesting is the disparity. I don't think being able to hear a clock silently ticking in the next room is quite normal, nor my hearing above 15k Hz (TVs, fluorescents, dimmer switches, etc.). So maybe we developed some other part of the software instead of this one. I can't lip read at all. Opera in English is still foreign to me, etc.
posted by jwells at 5:31 AM on April 24, 2007

I also have this problem. If I try and hear what someone is saying on the other side of a table (or person) in a remotely noisy environment I have severe trouble catching what they say.

I also can't keep up a phone call if there's a radio or tv on in the background, I find it almost impossible to stay focused on the phone call and blend the two together. My friend on the other hand is quite happy having a tv on in the background and can filter it out with ease.
posted by knapah at 5:33 AM on April 24, 2007

Human hearing, to a first approximation, works like a spectrum analyzer. You've got a huge collection of sensors in your cochlea, and each is energized by a very narrow band of frequencies.

Noise-induced hearing loss damages some of the sensors; they either shut down, and stop responding to the frequencies they used to, or they fire wildly and flood you with nonexistent noise (this is tinnitus). The effect in either case is to make it impossible to discriminate nearby frequencies - they get mixed up and sound like the same thing; it's kind of like the auditory equivalent of color blindness.

Because you'll typically still have lots of sensors still working all the way across the frequency range, this kind of damage doesn't necessarily show up in the kind of test that exposes you to simple singl;e-frequency tones to check if you can hear them or not. For example, I know perfectly well that I've done damage to my own hearing by careless application of loud music when I was young and indestructible, but I'm still one of the few 45-year-olds who can hear the 16kHz TV horizontal scan whistle from three rooms away, and get annoyed by that idiot Mosquito ringtone.

What it does do, though, is give your brain far less to work with when it's trying to take apart a complex soundscape consisting of many many frequencies.

In short: not all difficulty processing complex sounds is psychological or even neurological. You may well own one or more damaged ears, even if they can hear simple quiet things easily.

And just FWIW, my right ear has never been able to hear much bass, even before my headbanger phase, and is nowhere near as good at making sense of complicated sounds as my left, though it can pick up TV whine equally effectively.
posted by flabdablet at 5:48 AM on April 24, 2007

Well, another chiming in on the "me too" bandwagon.

I've suspected partial hearing loss (loud motorbikes, loud music) for a while; I have constant tinnitus of a pretty high frequency, and yet I passed a "quiet-room" hearing test that used a set of ever-quieter high frequencies with flying colours.

In crowded situations, or where there's background noise that interferes, I also have trouble following conversation. Perhaps ADD a little as well? Don't know.

I've had variously useless advice from the medical profession ranging from "make sure your wife can see your ears when she talks to you" to "get a hearing aid". I've found that the best solution, actually, is to wear one earplug (right ear) and cup my left with my hand.

It's only a matter of time before I'm uttering "Eh???", and "Get off my lawn, you damn kids!" with tedious regularity.

I find myself doing the conversation back-parsing a lot as well. Lipreading too, to some extent, but only when the environment is really bad. I also say "yeah" and laugh sometimes without knowing what I'm agreeing with.

Still, if you ever needed a good medical reason to be able to speak to somebody alone, this is it :)
posted by 5MeoCMP at 6:25 AM on April 24, 2007

My husband has this exact problem, and it's due to nerve damage on one side. He had an acoustic neuroma (noncencerous tumor of the auditory nerve) removed about 15 years gao. He fortunately was able to retain good word recognition ability in that ear, but because the nerve was heavily damaged, can no longer hear well on that side in noisy situations, such as in meetings and bars, etc.

It took quite some time to find an ENT to diagnose the tumor - everone else thought his symptoms were just a virus or nothing at all, etc. I would suggest going to the best ENT that you can find (we went to Mass Eye and Ear in Boston) if you want to pursue this.
posted by Flakypastry at 6:43 AM on April 24, 2007

Reading this thread has been a real ear-opener! I too am completely unable to follow conversations in any kind of crowd, where my contribution largely consists of "sorry, could you repeat that please?", and then I give up or pretend. The Wikipedia article on the Cocktail Party Effect (posted by Listener- is that eponysterical or what?) reads like purest science fiction. So, that's considered normal hearing/processing? While having a feeling that something was wrong, I had no idea most other people could do that, I've always thought were just... putting up with the difficulty.

As a musician I've been worried about hearing loss and have been tested twice. The results seemed normal. My ability to hear and play music is unaffected, as far as I can tell. (This may be hard to prove, come to think of it.) Nthing the sensitivity to quiet sounds no-one else can hear and the difficulty following speech if I'm not already paying attention. Friends and family have given up asking me whether I'm going deaf. I'm clearly not, but it's nice to know that I'm not imagining things. Hmm, perhaps a lip-reading class might help. Other family members may have similar difficulties, which never occurred to me until just now.

Pseudo-deaf Mefites unite- we can't hear conversation but we can hear the penny dropping(?)
posted by Coaticass at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2007

I have 9 out of 14 symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder (this is the first time I've heard of it) and very similar symptoms to those that you describe.

A previous therapist thought I had ADD but my current therapist disagrees because I have wonderful concentration in a controlled environment. It is true that I am also a good learner when it comes to reading and writing. However, it is practically impossible for me to learn from listening. For example, I can attend a meeting and have NO idea what was discussed just a couple of minutes later no matter how hard I try. As you can imagine, this makes life very difficult. I also get great grades in grad school but have had people comment that I am "ditzy." I DESPISE talking on the phone since I seem to miss all manner of things and it's much worse in a noisy environment. However, I had my hearing tested a few years ago and it was normal.

What can I say? It's extremely frustrating and I can commiserate. In my case I suspect I was exposed to lead when I was younger since my memory is also terrible :(
posted by mintchip at 10:35 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have this problem as well. It's astonishing to see how many people have it, it almost makes me think we're closer to "normal" than we think. Also have gotten tested, with normal results. I just can't *understand* people, having to ask to be repeated many times, when there's background noise.

I've also noticed the "back-parsing" phenomenon, in some of these situations, where I'll ask "pardon me?" or some such only to have my brain supply me with what they were saying, just a second or so too late. This has lead me (like some of you), to hypothesize that this could be attentional in nature.

I also have a left ear preference.

Sometimes, I'll hear speech that I can't "sync up" to, in that I can't even detect any words at all in English (this is usually only with bad, prerecorded, noisy, accented speech--all the odds against me). It sounds like a stream of noise that I'm pretty sure is English (from context), but I can't get any words out of it.

I don't see anyone else mentioning it, but this thing makes hearing song lyrics a bitch.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:13 AM on April 25, 2007

I posted on my tinnitus problems before, so I've got that too... had it almost a year now. Like I said upthread, I still test well in hearing tests, which is weird. As a musician I really had to retrain my ear for singing after I developed my tinnitis though. I hear a high pitched noise in my left ear and at first it was interfering and competing with what I'm listening to so that was screwing me up as a singer. I've had to teach myself to just listen over and around the high pitched noise.

Before the tinnitis I already had some hearing issues. Nowadays I think that once in a while my brain just shuts off listening because it's work. If I know I need to be listening, I will, but if I'm not aware that I should be listening sometimes I just don't hear a damned thing. It's like my ears only pay attention to what they want to to unless I wake them up and tell them otherwise.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:48 PM on April 25, 2007

I have a lot of the stuff mentioned here (left ear, unable to distinguish in a noisy environment), but I also had tons and tons of ear infections (no tubes) when I was a kid. I'd assume that had something to do with it?
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:47 PM on April 25, 2007

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