man with human hearing frequency

The Human Hearing Frequency Range

How Hearing Works in the Ear

Before we dive into what the human hearing frequency range is, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of how hearing works. Our environment transmits sound waves to our brains. These sound waves travel from our outer ear to our middle ear, then from the inner ear to our brain.

The cochlea is a spiral-shaped organ in the inner ear, containing auditory cells with tiny hair bundles known as stereocilia. These auditory cells convert sound wave vibrations into neural signals that get sent to the brain so that they can be interpreted as meaningful sound. 

This auditory process is very complex and any damage to this system can cause various types of hearing loss.

sound waves entering auditory canal diagram

Loudness and Pitch

Loudness corresponds to the intensity of a sound while pitch corresponds to the highs or lows of a frequency. Loudness is measured in decibels (dB) while pitch is measured in Hertz (Hz). Both loudness and pitch are subjective attributes that allow us to hear. There is a high correlation between the two, so a change in pitch can also result in a change of loudness.

Human Hearing Frequency Range

As humans, we hear a variety of different sounds, from the low humming of a car engine to the high pitches of birds singing. The human hearing frequency range is determined by the pitch and loudness of a sound. A healthy, normal human ear detects frequencies within a range of 20 Hz, being the lowest frequency, and 20 kHz, being the highest frequency. However, as we age the upper limit in average adults is often closer to 15–17 kHz.

Of course, there are certain sounds that we are unable to hear. Our pet dogs are able to hear dog whistles while we can’t since they have larger hearing ranges. Not all mammals have the same hearing range. Most smaller mammals are sensitive to higher frequencies.

Hearing Ranges for those with Hearing Loss

These hearing frequency ranges may vary depending on if you have hearing loss. Hearing loss usually affects the higher pitches first of the human hearing range. Those with high frequency hearing loss may have trouble with hearing sounds including instruments like flutes.

There are also individuals who have low frequency hearing loss, which means they have difficulty hearing sounds at or lower than 2,000 Hz like bass sounds in music or thunder. If you suspect you might have hearing loss, please consult a doctor or hearing professional to take a hearing test and explore your options. 

It is important to be proactive in protecting and maintaining your hearing health. Loud noise exposure can be very damaging, so make sure that you are doing what you can to minimize risks for hearing loss such as wearing ear plugs at loud events and keeping volume levels at a safe level.

Be sure to have your hearing tested regularly with a hearing healthcare professional. Together, you can develop an individualized plan to prevent, protect, and better manage your hearing health.

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