What's up with not being able to hear men's voices?

Hearing loss is a serious condition
Hearing loss is a serious condition

The story of the woman in China who was diagnosed with a hearing condition known as reverse slope hearing loss has been doing the rounds and people seem wildly entertained by it.

The Daily Mail reported that the woman identified by her surname, Ms Chen, woke up to find that she was unable to hear her boyfriend speak after experiencing ringing noise and nausea the night before.

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She was subsequently diagnosed with reverse slope hearing loss, meaning she could only hear high frequency sounds.

The article describes how she was able to hear her doctor, who is a woman, but could not hear a young male patient who entered the doctor’s office.

Doctor of Audiology, Nicola Burger, says the reverse slope hearing loss condition is less common than sloping hearing loss, which is a condition that allows someone to hear low pitch sounds and not high pitch sounds.

“It’s more typical that hearing loss slopes i.e. patients can hear the low pitches – the bassy voices, the male voices – but they struggle more with female voices, typically. For this particular case it works in the opposite way, so instead of it being difficult to hear high pitched sounds they cope with high pitched and sharp sounds but they can’t hear bassy, so male voices etc.,” says Nicola.

But in this instance says Ms Chen could still not be able to hear “anybody with a bassier” voice, which could include women.

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“It doesn’t mean you’re going to hear every male clearly because the spectrum actually covers the low pitches and the high pitches. They would better be able to hear someone with a sharper voice but they are still going to struggle. So in a reverse slope or sloping hearing loss you are going to still experience hearing difficulties in speech for example, whether it’s male or female, because certain speech sounds fall in certain areas across the spectrum,” she explains.

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Nicola says treatments for this condition depend on what caused it, which she says could be a number of things, for example trauma to the ear. She says there are medical options and amplifications, like hearing aids, that could help patients hear sounds they otherwise can’t.

The Daily Mail article headline that begins with “Woman is unable to hear the voices of MEN” and this gathered much amusement from social media users:

But some raised concerns and were definitely not tickled:

Nicola says, “Hearing loss can be isolating, it means you’re going to miss out on parts on conversations, which has implication in the workplace as well as socially. Hearing loss in any form can be highly debilitating.”

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She says there are solutions for such conditions and people should seek help from audiologists and ear nose and throat specialists. “Often something can be done about hearing conditions like reverse slope hearing loss, if not medically then surgically, here’s help available.”

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