Understanding the Degrees of Hearing Loss   

Carli Van Harken
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Getting your hearing checked is an important part of your healthcare. Hearing exams not only look at whether or not hearing loss is present, they also indicate the degree of hearing loss, from mild to profound, which is found. Knowing the degree of hearing loss present can be an important tool for making decisions about your hearing, if you understand what it means. Let’s take a look at the degrees of hearing loss and what they indicate about your hearing.

Mild Hearing Loss

Mild hearing loss occurs when there is difficulty detecting sounds under 40 decibels (dB) – about the sound of a quiet room or library. Sounds below this threshold include whispering voices, subtle mechanical noises like a ticking clock or computer keyboard, and soft outdoor noises like rustling leaves or distant traffic. 

Mild hearing loss may not be very noticeable but it is not a good idea to ignore hearing loss at this stage. Most hearing loss is cumulative and worsens over time, especially if it is left untreated. At the mild stage, our hearing is at its most adaptable to treatment, so using hearing aids and assistive devices is easier and more natural. 

When hearing loss is allowed to progress untreated, it changes the brain’s cognitive patterns for comprehending sound. The mind has to compensate for missing sound information and forges new ways of processing information from our ears. The more the brain has compensated for hearing loss, the more challenging it will be to hear “naturally” when hearing aids are introduced.

Moderate Hearing Loss

The next degree of hearing loss is moderate hearing loss. Moderate hearing loss means that there are challenges to hearing sounds between 40 dB and 60 dB. At this level, hearing loss becomes a significant challenge to everyday life. Normal conversational speech happens in the range of 50-60 dB. When hearing sounds in this range is impeded, you may find yourself asking people to speak up or repeat themselves often. 

For those with gradual hearing loss, the transition from mild to moderate hearing loss may seem too subtle to indicate a significant change. Moderate hearing loss is a significant condition however, and the challenges in comprehending speech mean that it can start significantly limiting our communication, social activity and quality of life. Conversely, treating hearing loss at this stage can be incredibly beneficial, making speech comprehension quicker, more accurate and more accessible. 

Severe Hearing Loss

Severe hearing loss indicates difficulty detecting sounds at volume levels softer than 80 dB. The threshold of 80 dB represents some fairly loud sounds – a vacuum cleaner or busy restaurant usually registers sound levels around 80 dB. With severe hearing loss, you are unable to detect and comprehend speech at normal volumes and miss most subtle noises and sound cues. 

Without treatment, severe hearing loss can be very difficult to live with. Hearing aids and assistive devices amplify sound to levels where it is again perceivable, making it easier to follow conversation and navigate your surroundings. Those who choose not to address severe hearing loss face serious risks to physical health and quality of life. Limited access to conversation and communication can be isolating, as well as detrimental to social relationships, career growth and learning.

Profound Hearing Loss

Hearing loss that is categorized as “profound” means that hearing is very limited, even at sound levels above 80 dB. This means that even loud sounds cannot be detected or understood. Even more so than severe hearing loss, profound hearing loss can drastically alter a person’s quality of life if it is left untreated. 

Unfortunately, almost all hearing loss is permanent, meaning that treatment cannot restore lost hearing. Hearing aids help mitigate hearing loss by providing nuanced sound amplification for your auditory system. While the majority of hearing aids and devices are designed for mild to severe hearing loss, there are treatment options to help manage profound hearing loss. 

If you live with profound hearing loss, accessing treatment can help lessen the impact hearing loss has on your life. You’ll want to work with your hearing specialist to find devices that can meet your hearing needs. Connecting with treatment can expand the scope of communication and possibility for those with profound hearing loss.