Understanding Reverse-Slope Hearing Loss

If you’ve been diagnosed with hearing loss in American Fork, odds are good that you have the most difficulty understanding women’s and children’s voices. This is because most types of hearing loss affect high-frequency sounds. A rare condition called reverse-slope hearing loss made headlines recently when a woman from China – identified only as “Chen” – woke up one morning unable to hear her boyfriend’s voice. Reverse-slope hearing loss affects the lower frequencies instead.

What is Reverse-Slope Hearing Loss?

woman with reverse-slope hearing loss who cannot hear her boyfriend

Doctors in China explain that Chen went to bed feeling nauseous and experiencing tinnitus – a ringing in the ears. When she woke up, she was unable to understand male voices. Chen was consequently diagnosed with reverse-slope hearing loss, a condition so rare there have only been about 3,000 confirmed cases on the entire North American continent.

Chen’s diagnosis was newsworthy given the extremely rare nature of this type of hearing impairment. Rather than the usual difficulty with high-pitched sounds, reverse-slope hearing loss hampers your ability to hear low-pitched sounds. The fact that men usually have deeper voices than women explains why Chen could not hear her boyfriend. Other symptoms of reverse-slope hearing loss include difficulty understanding vowel sounds, which have more low-pitch energy than consonants, and contribute more to our sense of volume. Consonants are higher-pitched and more important to speech clarity.

Causes and Treatment

Reverse-slope hearing loss has three main causes:

  • Genetics. Certain genes have the ability to inhibit the development of hair cells in the cochlea that are responsible for pitch perception.
  • Meniere’s disease. This inner ear disorder, characterized by vertigo, fluctuating hearing loss and tinnitus, affects the fluid of the cochlea and can cause you to have difficulty understanding low-pitched sounds.
  • Sudden-onset conditions. As Chen experienced, sometimes hearing loss develops with little or no warning. This often occurs with reverse-slope hearing loss. Viral infections are sometimes responsible, but often the exact cause or condition is never clear.

If you are diagnosed with reverse-slope hearing loss, your treatment options are limited. When the condition is the result of genetics, nothing can be done to correct the loss. If the condition develops suddenly, steroid injections may be used to reverse the symptoms, though success with this treatment is mixed. Often, symptoms are permanent. Counseling and coping strategies may be your best bet for a better quality of life. Fortunately, as stated, reverse-slope hearing loss is extremely rare. You are far more likely to develop hearing loss that interferes with your ability to understand high-pitched sounds – a type of impairment that is successfully treated with hearing aids in most cases.

If you are showing any signs of hearing loss, contact your American Fork audiologist for a thorough evaluation.


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