How to Determine Your Degree of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss affects more people than you may realize. About 15% of American adults—that's 37.5 million people—report some difficulty with hearing. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including exposure to loud noises or an infection, and it often progresses gradually.

Hearing loss can impair your work and relationships. It’s important to get your hearing screened regularly and to see a healthcare provider if you’re having any difficulties with hearing or your ears.

While hearing loss cannot always be cured, there are treatments that can help you hear better. This article will explain how hearing is measured, the various degrees of hearing loss, and what treatments are available.

Hearing loss

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How Hearing Is Measured

Hearing is measured in decibels (dB), or how loud a sound has to be for you to hear it. To evaluate your hearing, a healthcare provider (usually an audiologist) will determine the lowest decibel you can hear.

Decibel Chart

An extremely loud noise like a gunshot can damage your hearing, as can ongoing exposure to something like a power tool or motorcycle. For this reason, it's helpful to consult a decibel chart, which breaks down the decibel levels of common daily noises like ambulance sirens and dishwashers.

If you're concerned you may be exposing yourself to too much noise, ask your healthcare provider for guidance on how to protect your hearing.

When a Hearing Aid Is Required

Nearly 29 million U.S. adults could benefit from wearing hearing aids, yet fewer than 1 in 3 people over the age of 70 with hearing loss has ever worn them. If your hearing loss is mild to moderate and is interfering with your life in any way, a hearing aid may be helpful.

For those with severe hearing loss, a hearing aid may not be effective and a cochlear implant may be necessary. An audiologist can evaluate your level of hearing loss to determine what type of device is best for you.

Levels of Hearing Loss

To determine how severe your hearing loss is, an audiologist will conduct a hearing test. Your degree of hearing loss is assessed by how loud sounds have to be for you to hear them. It’s measured in decibels of hearing loss, or dB HL. Normal hearing has a dB HL range of minus 10 (-10) to 15.


Mild hearing loss is classified as having a dB HL range of 26 to 40. This level of hearing loss might make it difficult to hear conversations when there's a lot of background noise. It's similar to what a person with normal hearing would experience if they stuck their fingers in their ears.


Moderate hearing loss encompasses the dB HL range of 41 to 55. With this level of hearing loss, you may have trouble hearing some consonant and vowel sounds when someone is talking. In other words: You're able to hear, but you'll struggle to understand everything.

Moderately Severe

In moderately severe hearing loss, the dB HL range is from 56 to 70. Without hearing aids, people with this level of hearing loss cannot hear speech. Even with hearing aids, speech may sometimes be difficult to hear and understand.


Severe hearing loss is when the dB HL ranges from 71 to 90. Without hearing aids or cochlear implants, someone with this level of hearing loss cannot hear speech.


Profound hearing loss encompasses any dB HL of 91 and above. Without hearing aids or cochlear implants, someone with this degree of hearing loss may not even be able to hear loud sounds like airplane engines or fire alarms.


There are various tests that can be used to diagnose hearing loss. They aren’t painful, and they can provide much-needed information. These tests include:

  • Auditory brain stem response (ABR) test or brain stem auditory evoked response (BAER) test, which checks the brain’s response to sound and can be done while sleeping.
  • Otoacoustic emissions (OAE), which measures the response of the inner ear to sound and can be done while sleeping.
  • Behavioral audiometry evaluation, which tests the functioning of all parts of the ear and evaluates how a person responds to sounds. During this test, the person is awake and actively responds to sounds.


Treatment can look different for each person and is based on the cause and severity of hearing loss and the person's age. Treatment plans for anyone with hearing loss should include close monitoring, continued follow-ups, and changing the treatment plan as needed over time.

For children and teens, early intervention and special education can help get them not only the services they need, but also the educational accommodations and modifications they are entitled to by law. Each state has an Early Hearing Detection and Intervention program that can help identify babies and children with hearing loss, as well as provide services and follow-ups as needed.

Technological Assistive Devices

Many people with hearing loss still have some amount of hearing, called residual hearing. Technological assistive devices can't reverse hearing loss, but they can help someone use their residual hearing to their best advantage. They include:

  • Hearing aids
  • Cochlear or brain stem implants
  • Bone-anchored hearing aids
  • Other assistive devices like captioning, portable sound amplifiers, and audio loop systems

Medicine or Surgery

If hearing loss is due to chronic ear infections or a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, antibiotics or surgery to place a tube into the eardrum to drain it can help with hearing. Surgery may also be necessary if parts of the ear do not function formed properly.

When to Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

Sometimes, hearing loss comes on so gradually that loved ones notice it before you do. If you have any changes to your hearing, start by talking to your primary care provider. They can do an exam to see if your symptoms are due to an infection, earwax buildup, or something else.

They can then refer you to a specialist for more exams and/or hearing tests. If your hearing decreases suddenly, you should see a healthcare provider quickly, since sudden hearing loss has the best chance for recovery when treated early.

If you haven’t had a hearing test in a while, talk with your healthcare provider. There are no evidence-based guidelines for how often you should have your hearing checked, but many audiologists recommend that adults get screened every three years, starting at the age of 50.


There are different degrees of hearing loss, from mild to profound. A hearing test can determine your degree of hearing loss by pinpointing the decibel level at which you can hear. Treatment may include surgery or the use of technological assistive devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants.

A Word From Verywell

It can be embarrassing to realize you're having trouble hearing, especially in social situations. You may also worry that if your hearing loss is permanent, that you may eventually experience total hearing loss.

The good news is that there are many effective treatments such as hearing aids that can help protect the hearing you still have. The earlier you deal with your hearing loss, the better your prognosis will likely be, so don't hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is hearing loss considered a disability?

    Yes, hearing loss is considered a legal disability, and people with hearing loss are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In order to get Social Security disability benefits, there are certain qualifications you must meet. Having medical evidence and documentation from your healthcare providers can help with this.

  • How can you tell if hearing loss is permanent or temporary?

    The most common type of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, is usually permanent. Conductive hearing loss, which is caused by a blockage such as a buildup of fluid or earwax or swelling from an infection, can sometimes be temporary. Without proper treatment it may become permanent, however.

    Keep in mind that permanent hearing loss does not mean you'll lose your ability to hear completely. Many treatments are available to help protect and improve the hearing you still have.

  • How do you read a hearing test?

    The graph of an audiogram has frequencies plotted horizontally at the top from left to right, ranging from low to high. Sound level in decibels is plotted vertically on the left, from very soft sounds to very loud sounds. Your healthcare provider can show you how to read your audiogram and explain what the results mean in practical, everyday terms.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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