Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Why can't my brain distinguish between voices unless I see the person talking?"
This has just started happening recently. I'll be watching TV and there'll be a fast conversation, and I won't be able to tell who's asking a question without rewinding and watching closely. It happens with people with very different voices, even of different genders. Is there something wrong with my brain or my ears? Or is it something I shouldn't worry about?
Sorry to hear that you have been having some troubles with your hearing, and that specifically you are having a hard time understanding voices when they are rapidly talking. I would recommend that you go see an ENT (or Ear Nose Throat) physician to get evaluated. They will look in your ears to make sure that there aren't any physical abnormalities that could be causing a hearing loss (such as fluid in your ears, a hole in your eardrum, etc). If your exam is normal, then they will likely order an audiogram, or hearing test, to evaluate your hearing to make sure that there isn't any hearing loss. Without knowing you, being able to examine you, or take a history, it will be hard for me to figure out exactly what is going on. I am happy to give you some of my initial thoughts, and how I would probably start a work-up if you came to my clinic. With high frequency hearing loss it is not uncommon to have a hard time distinguishing different voices, in particular female voices because of their pitch. There is something called discrimination on a hearing test that will help not only evaluate whether you are able to hear a sound, but to be able to distinguish one word from another. In addition to an ear exam, I would start out with a comprehensive audiogram (including discrimination) to evaluate your hearing. This would be the first step (of course in addition to taking a thorough history). Best of luck.
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