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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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"Bionic" Hearing
January 2000

Q. I am writing to inquire about a person's ability to hear high frequencies inaudible to others. My girlfriend says she can hear dog whistles, electronic devices (like radar) and other high or low frequencies. I asked her to talk to a doctor and she said that she called several. One doctor told her that this occurs in a large population of people and to just get ear plugs if it bothers her. I am scared that she might be lying to me. Could this really be a case of "bionic hearing" or is it some type of hallucination?

A. The normal hearing is between 20 and 20,000 hertz, and it is possible for a few persons to be able to hear higher or lower frequencies than the average. Certainly, though, going far beyond any of these frequencies is highly unlikely. It may be, however, that she is more sensitive to high-pitched noises within the normal range. It is very common to have people be more intolerant of noises that others find less than disturbing. I agree with the doctor that wearing earplugs can help if it is bothering her. I am not exactly certain about what you are scared about with her lying to you. What would be the purpose of these lies?

Certainly "bionic hearing" is not possible since that would mean that she had surgery to implant some sort of mechanism to improve her hearing. A hallucination is a possibility, but of course if she is able to hear a dog whistle when it is actually occurring this is not a hallucination. A hallucination would be hearing a dog whistle when there is no dog whistle being blown.

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