Understanding the Degrees of Hearing Loss

Dr. Maria Wynens, Au.D.Hearing Loss

Dr. Maria Wynens, Au.D.
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It is estimated that about 48 million Americans currently live with hearing loss. This includes 1 out of 5 teenagers and young adults, 1 out of 3 people aged 65-74 and half of adults 75 and older. While these 48 million people all live with hearing loss, the degree and presentation vary greatly from person to person. When you go to your local audiologist and get diagnosed with hearing loss, you will also be diagnosed with a “degree” of hearing loss. This is a helpful guide to help you better understand the various degrees of hearing loss.

Bilateral Versus Unilateral

Before diving into the degrees of hearing loss, it is important to first understand the difference between bilateral and unilateral hearing loss. Most people who have a hearing impairment have bilateral hearing loss. This means that they experience hearing loss to a similar degree in both ears. People with unilateral hearing loss experience the impairment much more significantly in one ear over the other. Some examples of unilateral hearing loss are a person who may have very mild hearing loss in one ear and severe hearing loss in the other, or a person with no hearing loss in one ear and moderate hearing loss in the other. When this is the case, you will still be given a degree of hearing loss – it will just be a different degree in each ear.

Degrees of Hearing Loss

In order to determine a person’s degree of hearing loss, they must first determine the quietest sound that person can hear. These sounds are currently measured in decibels. The higher the decibels, the louder the sound. For example, a quiet, whispering conversation is about 25-30 decibels and the sound of a jet engine taking off is about 140 decibels. The quietest sounds that humans with perfect hearing can perceive rings in at 0 decibels.

No Hearing Loss – People who can easily hear sounds from 0-20 decibels are typically considered to have no hearing loss. People with no hearing loss can easily hear whispered conversations, leaves rustling in the wind, and normal breathing.

Mild Hearing Loss – Mild hearing loss is the most common and most under-diagnosed type of hearing loss. People who experience this type of impairment will have a hearing threshold of 20-40 decibels. With mild hearing loss, one may find it difficult to follow group conversations – especially in noisy environments. It may feel as though you can hear people speaking around you, however, you cannot understand them. Because higher pitched sounds are usually the first to go with hearing loss, some people report having a more difficult time understanding women and children.

Moderate Hearing Loss – People with moderate hearing loss will have trouble hearing sounds that are in the 40-60 decibel range. This is about the noise level of a quiet office, birds chirping, and normal conversations. Most people with moderate hearing loss will have difficulty understanding most conversations without the use of hearing aids.

Severe Hearing Loss – People with severe hearing loss will experience a hearing threshold in the 60-80 decibel range. People with severe hearing loss may have difficulty hearing a vacuum cleaner or outside traffic. Most people with severe hearing loss do seek treatment more quickly than those with mild or moderate hearing loss, since it causes quite a hindrance to daily life if left untreated.

Profound Hearing Loss – Profound hearing loss means one’s hearing threshold is above 80 decibels. People with profound hearing loss will most likely be unable to hear sounds such as kitchen blenders, motorcycle engines or a lawn mower. Many people with profound hearing loss learn other means of communication on top of using hearing devices, such a lip reading and sign language. Some people with profound hearing loss will be considered legally deaf.

Atlanta Hearing Doctor

Whatever your degree of hearing loss, there are treatment plans available to meet your needs. If you are in the Atlanta area, feel free to reach out to our friendly team at Atlanta Hearing Doctor to schedule a hearing assessment. We look forward to an opportunity to meet your hearing needs – no matter what degree of loss you experience.