Understanding the Degrees of Hearing Loss

Understanding the Degrees of Hearing Loss

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A

Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A
Latest posts by Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A (see all)

Hearing loss comes in all shapes and sizes. Some people have loss in one ear or the other, while other people have balanced hearing loss between the two ears. Some people find that hearing ability is missing in a certain frequency range, while others feel like the entire spectrum of sound is muffled or indecipherable. Despite the many varieties of hearing loss, specialists tend to categorize hearing loss according to degrees of severity. Within any given band of frequencies, or pitches ranging from high to low, a person might have a certain degree of ability. 

One way to think about this presence or absence of hearing ability is how loud a sound would have to be for you to be able to hear it. This way of thinking about hearing loss is reflected in a chart called an audiogram. Although you can rely on your hearing health professional to interpret the results, this graph basically shows you how much louder a sound needs to be than the baseline if you can hear it. The chart is broken into different ranges of frequencies, showing those who have trouble with higher or lower sounds. 

Let’s consider the different categories of hearing loss with this chart in mind, helping us to understand the degrees of hearing loss. 

Mild Hearing Loss

Mild hearing loss is the most commonly undiagnosed, and some people don’t even know that they have this kind of loss. The missing sounds in this range tend to be below 40 decibels, and they include whispering, rustling leaves, breathing, or wind blowing. Those with mild hearing loss tend to have trouble hearing voices in a noisy room, because the voice needs to be that much louder than competing sound if it is to be heard. 

Moderate Hearing Loss

Moderate hearing loss occurs in the 40 to 60 decibel range, and it can lead to further difficulty with conversation. Many of the sounds in a quiet room might be difficult or impossible to hear. A person with moderate hearing loss would still be able to hear loud sounds, but conversations can become quite difficult. The quieter parts of speech will most likely be lost while the other parts of speech come through, making language sound like a jumble of random syllables. 

Severe and Profound Hearing Loss

Severe hearing loss occurs between 60 and 80 decibels. Some of the sounds that occur in this range include a hair dryer or a vacuum cleaner. As you might expect, if a person is unable to hear a vacuum cleaner, then they will have trouble hearing almost all conversation. Some people with hearing loss in this range report that the whole world seems to be muffled or muted. Profound hearing loss is categorized by many people as a type of deafness, and it extends into the range beyond 80 decibels. These sounds include lawn mowers, blenders, and motorcycles. Those with profound hearing loss require hearing aids, but they may also need more advanced forms of assistive technology. 

Treatment for Hearing Loss

If you are unsure if you have hearing loss or not, your ability most likely falls in the mild range. However, the steady progression of hearing loss can be so subtle that some people find that they already have moderate loss without knowing it. If you find yourself asking others to speak up, repeat themselves, or failing to hear questions in a conversation, these can be early warning signs of hearing loss. 

Other warning signs are noticing that you are checked out during conversations. Rather than struggling to make out what others are saying, you might discover that you just tune them out and let your mind wander. 

If you have any of these experiences, the time is now for a hearing test. This test will determine if you have hearing loss, and, if you do have loss, then you will get a thorough diagnosis of the type and degree of that loss. Don’t put off getting this analysis of your hearing ability. The sooner you get hearing aids, the sooner you will be able to reap the many benefits they can provide for your health, relationships, cognition, and enjoyment of the sounding world.