It is very common for many people with tinnitus (ringing, buzzing, hissing or other sounds in the ears or head) to report that they cannot hear conversation over the ringing sound, and if only the ringing sound would go away, they could hear better. Some people believe that the reason they cannot hear a conversation is because all they can sense is the ringing their ears which must be causing the problem.
Tinnitus does not prevent a person from hearing. While there are rare exceptions, the reason that one cannot hear is because they have loss of hearing or difficulty with the identification of speech under certain conditions due to auditory impairment located more centrally in the brain.
Our brains are designed to hear all frequencies of speech as well as frequencies higher than speech which alerts us to environmental sounds. This helps us to localize noise and identify a sound when there is other ambient noise. It is all part of our survival mechanism.
So what is tinnitus? When our brains do not get all of the sound that we should due to an even slight hearing loss, our brains will try to drive sound up to the auditory cortex to help us to hear. For some people, this hyperactivity of the auditory system becomes a pattern. If this activity penetrates an impaired ventral medial pre frontal cortex, it is perceived by the listener as sound which we call tinnitus. When the ventral medial prefrontal cortex is intact, a person will not perceive their tinnitus.
At Champlain Valley Audiology, we perform comprehensive hearing and tinnitus evaluations to identify where the auditory weakness is, and to offer the most effective treatment options for the hearing loss and tinnitus.