Understanding the Degrees of Hearing Loss

Understanding the Degrees of Hearing Loss

In hearing health, hearing loss by Laurie Duffy, M.S.

When you get a hearing test your results are formatted as a chart called an “audiogram”. Audiograms show the specific challenges your hearing has, as well as overall patterns in your hearing ability. When your hearing specialist reviews the results with you, they will often tell you the degree of hearing loss present-but what exactly do these different degrees mean- and what can you do about them?

One important thing to keep in mind is that treating your hearing loss is always to your benefit, so we recommend addressing issues when they arise. Failing to treat hearing loss early can worsen your hearing, health, quality of life and restrict future treatment options. If hearing loss is present in your audiogram, work with your hearing specialist to find the right treatment options, don’t wait on it.

Mild Hearing Loss

Mild hearing loss represents the stage of hearing loss where hearing difficulties are first being noticed. Mild hearing loss means that sounds at the volume of 40 dB (decibels) or softer pose a challenge for your hearing. At this degree of hearing loss it is difficult to detect soft and subtle noises like whispers, breathing, footsteps and environmental noise like birdsong. It can also be hard to distinguish sounds and speech in noisy environments. Speech, especially when spoken softly or by someone with a high voice can be hard to comprehend. 

Mild hearing loss is the most under-treated degree of hearing loss, which is unfortunate because it is also where treating hearing loss can be most effective. While trouble hearing soft sounds may not seem like a big issue, treating hearing loss at this stage can have a big impact.

Most permanent hearing loss has the potential to worsen over time, taking an ever-increasing toll on your health and quality of life. By addressing hearing loss early, when it is classified as mild, your hearing adapts with treatment making the sound enhancement of hearing aids sound more natural. 

Moderate Hearing Loss

When moderate hearing loss is present, hearing issues are usually noticeable on a daily basis. Moderate hearing loss means your hearing threshold (the volume at which hearing becomes difficult) falls between 41 dB and 60 dB. This range includes normal speaking volume, and common everyday environments like offices and shops. Most conversational speech will have sound muffled. Distinguishing sounds in noisy environments will be significantly challenging.

Moderate hearing loss puts stress on your daily life and impacts your interaction with and enjoyment of the world around you. Left unaddressed, moderate hearing loss makes you vulnerable to anxiety, depression and isolation. Treating moderate hearing loss is an effective way to boost your hearing health, giving you a better, clearer comprehension of speech and sound.

Severe Hearing Loss

Above the threshold for moderate hearing loss, severe hearing loss is the designation for those with a hearing threshold between 61dB and 80dB. Severe hearing loss means that even loud noises like shouting, traffic, home appliances and live music can be difficult to parse. Severe hearing loss is frustrating to live with and can impact everything from your personal relationships to your cognitive health to your earning power.

Ideally, treatment for hearing loss has been sought before the hearing loss becomes severe. Our sense of hearing changes as hearing loss worsens, so using assistive devices like hearing aids can often sound “unnatural” when first encountered at the degree of severe hearing loss. That said, hearing aid users with severe hearing loss can adapt their hearing to new hearing aids with practice, and hearing aids offer access to a much richer, fuller and clearer palette of sound. 

Profound Hearing Loss

For those with profound hearing loss, detecting and comprehending speech and sound is drastically limited. Anyone with a hearing threshold above 80 dB is considered to have profound hearing loss. Profound hearing loss often limits a person’s ability to communicate and can curtail mobility. It can be very cognitively taxing as well as being a drag on a person’s overall health and well-being. 

It is harder to treat profound hearing loss than the other degrees of hearing difficulty, and often requires hearing aids especially designed for the task. Still, treating profound hearing loss is important and can help lessen the burdens and risks brought by limited hearing. 

Concerned with your hearing abilities? 

We’re here to help. We provide comprehensive hearing services and can help determine the best course of action for you. Contact us today!