What if you couldn’t hear what men say? You may think that all you will is just some “sup bro’s” and cheesy pick-up lines such ““if you were a transformer you’d be Optimus Fine.” But that’s not all that you may be missing, especially if you have a real medical condition.
That’s what happened to a woman in Xiamen, China, who woke up one day unable to hear her boyfriend, according to Vanessa Chalmers writing for The Daily Mail. But it wasn’t just her boyfriend. She wasn’t able to hear other men’s voices as well.
Apparently, the woman had something called reverse slope hearing loss. It’s called reverse-slope because of the shape that results on an audiogram. An audiogram is a graph of your ability to hear sounds of increasing frequency or pitch, going left to right on the graph.
On average, male voices tend to be of lower frequency but certainly aren’t the only sounds that are low-pitch. Other examples of lower-frequency sounds are the bloop-bloop of tuba, a low moan, a rumbling fart reverberating in baggy pants, or James Earl Jones singing Love Me Tender. Examples of higher-frequency sounds are a whistle, air leaking through a small hole, and anything sung by the BeeGees.
The most common type of hearing loss is when you lose the ability to hear higher-frequency sounds. Thus, an audiogram looks like a downward ski-slope, dropping as you move to the right with higher and higher pitches. That’s why higher-frequency hearing loss is also considered ski-slope hearing loss or simply sloping loss.
When, the opposite occurs and you lose the ability to hear lower-pitch sounds, the audiogram looks like a rising slope or a reverse-slop, hence the name reverse-slope hearing loss. Lower-frequency hearing loss can be less noticeable than higher-frequency hearing loss. After all, what is more noticeable in a song, a bass line or the shriek of an electric guitar? Thus, even if you are born with low-frequency hearing loss from a genetic mutation in Wolfram Syndrome 1 or a malformation of the structures in your ear (e.g., Mondini dysplasia), it may take a while to detect the problem.
A number of other conditions can lead to lower-frequency hearing loss, depending on what parts of your ear are affected. A website from the National Institute on Deafness and Communications Disorders (NIDCD) describes how a sound because something that you hear. Take a look at the this picture depicting the anatomy of the ear:
When sound waves enter your ear on the left side of this diagram, they travel through your ear canal to your eardrum, causing the eardrum and then three connected tiny bones in your middle ear to vibrate. These bones amplify the vibrations that subsequently cause ripples in the fluid contained in your cochlea, which is that snail-shaped structure on the right side of the diagram, located in your inner ear. These ripples then make the little hairs in your cochlea move up and down. The hair cells close to the wider end of the cochlea can pick up higher-pitched sounds, while those closer to the center of the spiral shape can detect lower-pitched sounds. Movement of the hair cells trigger chemical reactions that result in electrical signals that go to your brain and viola, you can hear a sound.
Thus, the frequency of hearing loss you suffer depends on what parts of your ear are disrupted. Possible causes of low-frequency hearing loss include Meniere’s Disease, viral infections, kidney failure, spinal anesthetics, and pressure changes in your ear from intracranial hypertension. The duration and treatment of reverse-slop hearing loss depends on the cause. When the cause is permanent, hearing aids may help.
Of course, reverse slope hearing loss is not specific to all male voices. If your boyfriend is the lead singer for Air Supply then you may be able to still hear him. Conversely, such hearing deficits can make it difficult to hear women with lower pitched voices as well. The exact prevalence of low frequency hearing loss is not known, but it is likely significantly lower than that of high-frequency hearing loss.