What Are the Different Degrees of Hearing Loss?

Doctor Fitting Female Patient With Hearing Aid

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition affecting adults. The older you are, the more likely you are to experience hearing loss. How debilitating hearing loss is depends largely on what degree of hearing loss you are experiencing.

Degrees of hearing loss are based on the results of audiology testing. Your hearing is considered normal if you can hear sounds of 15 decibels or less. Slight hearing loss being classified as the ability to hear sounds at 16 to 25 decibels, mild hearing loss as being able to hear 26 to 40 decibels, moderate hearing loss classified as being able to hear sounds of 41 to 55 decibels, moderately severe as 56 to 70 decibels, severe hearing loss as 71 to 90 decibels, and profound hearing loss classified as only being able to hear sounds greater than 91 decibels.

This article will talk about the different degrees of hearing loss and what you might expect based on the severity of your hearing loss.

Mild Hearing Loss

The term "mild hearing loss" may in and of itself be somewhat misleading as it implies that this condition is not disabling. While the experience of someone suffering from mild hearing loss will be unique to the individual, many people have trouble understanding speech even with this degree of hearing loss. You may find yourself frequently asking others around you to repeat themselves. Background noise or other competing signals will worsen your ability to understand speech.

People with mild hearing loss will have no trouble hearing some sounds while certain other sounds may be a problem. In particular the following sounds may be difficult to hear for someone with this degree of hearing loss: /f/, /s/, /th/, and /k/. You may find that you have to listen to the television or to music at a higher volume than the people around you. People with mild hearing loss may also experience increased listening fatigue. Listening fatigue is a condition that occurs because people with hearing loss have to work harder to understand and follow conversations.

Symptoms of all degrees of hearing loss will be worse if the hearing loss affects both ears rather than just one side. Most people with mild hearing loss in only one ear are able to compensate very well.

Despite these challenges, many cases of mild hearing loss are unnoticed and undiagnosed. People with mild hearing loss usually remain high functioning, but hearing amplification through the use of hearing aids can still improve their quality of life.

Professionals that may be helpful in evaluating and treating mild hearing loss include general practitioners, otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat doctors) and audiologists.

Moderate and Moderately Severe Hearing Loss

This section covers individuals living with hearing loss in the 41 to 70 decibel range. People with this degree of hearing loss usually find it difficult to hear soft to moderately loud sounds. A typical conversation is about 60 decibels. You will probably find that you have to listen to the television or to music at a louder volume than the rest of your family or friends. You are more likely to have difficulty understanding speech and will probably experience listening fatigue. These hearing issues are amplified in the presence of background noise. This degree of hearing loss may impair an individual's ability to succeed professionally as well as function socially, and even lead to feelings of isolation and depression if left untreated.

Treatment of any degree of hearing loss depends on the underlying cause. If hearing loss cannot be reversed surgically or medically individuals with moderate to moderately severe hearing loss usually benefit from using hearing aids or other sound amplification devices.

Severe to Profound Hearing Loss

Hearing loss in this range is significantly debilitating particularly without treatment. People with severe hearing loss cannot hear sounds below 70 decibels. People with profound hearing loss cannot hear sounds below about 90 decibels. To give you a better idea of what this means, here are some common sounds and their estimated decibels:

  • Busy traffic, a vacuum cleaner,  or an alarm clock is about 70 decibels.
  • A blow dryer, kitchen blender, or food processor is about 80-90 decibels.
  • The subway or a passing motorcycle is about 90 decibels.

People with severe to profound hearing loss have problems hearing speech and communicating with others. Skills such as sign language or lip reading can help to facilitate communication for both adults and children with severe to profound hearing loss.

High powered hearing aids or sound amplification devices may be beneficial for some individuals with severe or profound hearing loss, (particularly for those with severe hearing loss), but for many people with this degree of hearing loss, more treatment is necessary. Depending on the type of hearing loss you have, cochlear implants are a treatment option for many people with severe to profound hearing loss.

A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that consists of two parts. There is an internal part and external part. This medical device bypasses the damaged portion of your ear and directly stimulates the auditory nerve.

Following the surgical implantation of a cochlear implant, there is a rehabilitation process. During this time you must learn how to hear with your cochlear implant and work with an audiologist, who will make regular adjustments to your device (called mapping). Using a cochlear implant is not like using a hearing aid or sound amplification device, you have to get used to hearing sounds in a new way.

More than 188,000 people have received cochlear implants. Improvements are constantly being made to these devices and they have increased the quality of life for thousands of people with severe to profound hearing loss. However, cochlear devices are not for everyone. If you think you may benefit from a cochlear implant, talk to your doctor.

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