Reverse-Slope Hearing Loss: What Is It?

side angle of woman's ear and graphic

Low-frequency hearing loss, often known as reverse-slope hearing loss, is a very uncommon type of hearing loss. This name comes from the way it appears on an audiogram, which is a standardized chart used by audiologists to measure hearing levels during the testing process. Normal hearing loss shows as a slope going the opposite way.

How Reverse-Slope Hearing Loss Affects the Way That You Hear Things

Low-frequency hearing loss is defined as a decreased capacity to hear low-pitched noises like men's voices, bass tones in music and thunder. The degree of your hearing loss, which can range from slight to extensive, determines how well you hear certain sounds.

In terms of speech, this form of hearing loss primarily impacts how you experience the volume of speech – that is, how loud it appears. It also makes vowel sounds, which are pronounced at a lower pitch than consonant sounds, more difficult to hear. In contrast to high frequency hearing loss, having people speak loudly is beneficial since it improves your ability to hear lower sounds, assuming you do not wear hearing aids.

What Are the Symptoms of Reverse-Slope Hearing Loss

Women and children may be easier to understand than men, especially if they speak loudly. As men generally speak with lower tones. When compared to in-person interactions, you may find it difficult to hear on the phone. Furthermore, you are unlikely to hear the typical rumbling sounds of car and truck engines and airplanes or low rumbles of thunder.

It may be difficult to hear whether household appliances such as washing machines, dryers and dish washers are running. Music may also sound tinny to you. Many people with reverse slope hearing loss have a heightened ability to hear high-pitched sounds that other people may not pick up on – a siren in the distance, the tapping of a fingernail or claw, air whistling through a gap – which is what often makes this hearing condition more difficult to be picked up. You may find it easier to hear people when they stand close to you to talk and your own speech sounds pretty normal.

What Causes Reverse-Slope Hearing Loss?

This uncommon form of hearing loss is either inherited or acquired as a result of a childhood illness in some situations. However, the majority of instances are associated with otosclerosis, often known as Meniere's disease, an autoimmune condition that causes hearing loss, dizziness and ringing. Unfortunately, in Meniere's disease, the hearing loss may increase over time, leading to different types of hearing loss that impair sounds across the entire pitch spectrum.

While the underlying mechanism is unknown, low-frequency hearing loss is also an established risk factor for heart disease.

How is Reverse-Slope Hearing Loss Diagnosed?

Unfortunately, due to the rarity of this form of hearing loss, it is frequently misdiagnosed or goes untreated for years. Other types of hearing loss are typically picked up on calibrated hearing tests to diagnose other forms of hearing loss. However, with proper and comprehensive testing with an expert audiologist, an audiogram will reveal a reverse-slope that slopes from low to high, indicating the loss of low-frequency hearing. In contrast, high-frequency hearing loss, which is significantly more common, slopes from high to low on an audiogram.

How Can Reverse-Slope Hearing Loss Be Treated or Managed?

Hearing aids can help to magnify lower-pitched sounds while not over-amplifying higher-pitched noises. However, because of the scarcity and intricacy of this form of low frequency hearing loss, finding the proper augmentation may need some tweaking and experimentation, as many audiologists will have not come across this kind of hearing loss in their auditory career before.

One concern you may encounter is a hearing loss occurrence known as recruitment. This is where a sound will suddenly seem louder than expected and may startle you. You will need a sympathetic and skilled audiologist to guide you in figuring out which treatment is best for you. If you have Meniere's disease, it is critical that you follow your doctor's recommendations to protect your hearing.

If you want to find out more about reverse-slope hearing loss, or indeed any other type of hearing loss, have your hearing checked or generally talk to an experienced and patient audiologist, get in touch with the expert team at Peninsula Hearing. Call us today at Poulsbo: 360-697-3061 or Port Townsend: 360-379-5458. We are waiting to hear from you and help you to improve your hearing health right.