Woman can't hear the television while watching with friends.

If you can hear voices and make out some words but not others, or you can’t differentiate between somebody’s voice and surrounding noise, your hearing problem might be in your ear’s ability to conduct sound or in your brain’s ability to process signals, or both.

Your ability to process sound is determined by several factors like overall health, age, brain function, and genetics. If you have the frustrating experience being able to hear a person’s voice but not being able to process or understand what that person is saying you could be dealing with one or more of the following types of hearing loss.

Conductive Hearing Loss

When we tug on our ears, continuously swallow, and say over and over to ourselves with increasing aggravation, “something’s in my ear,” we might be experiencing conductive hearing loss. Problems with the outer and middle ear like fluid in the ear, a buildup of wax, ear infections, or eardrum damage all reduce the ear’s ability to conduct sound to the brain. Depending on the severity of issues going on in your ear, you might be able to understand some individuals, with louder voices, versus hearing partial words from others talking in normal or lower tones.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Where conductive hearing loss can be brought about by outer- and middle-ear issues, Sensorineural hearing loss affects the inner ear. Damage to the inner ear’s hair-like cells or the auditory nerve itself can stop sound signals from going to the brain. Voices might sound slurred or unclean to you, and sounds can sound as either too low or too high. You’re experiencing high frequency hearing loss, if you have difficulty hearing women and children’s voices or can’t distinguish voices from the background noise.