There is no clear line between what is considered normal hearing and what level of hearing loss requires treatment. Each degree of hearing loss has different options for treatment and different expectant outcomes. Understanding your degree of hearing loss is key to choosing proper treatment.
How Is Sound Measured?
Before you can understand the results of your audiogram (chart used to show hearing ability), it’s important to understand how sound is measured. It can be measured in terms of loudness and pitch.
Sound travels in waves; the amplitude of waves is measured in decibels (dB), which indicate volume, and the speed of the waves is measured in hertz (Hz), which indicate pitch.
Hearing evaluations test the quietest decibels you can hear for sounds of various frequencies. The decibel range shown on the audiogram is typically 0-120, and the frequency (Hz) range is about 125-8000 – the range of human speech.
The Degrees of Hearing Loss
Once charted on an audiogram, you’ll be able to see how these units translate to your degree of hearing loss.
Slight hearing loss means you can’t hear sounds quieter than 20 dB, which is about the volume of rustling leaves. While most people with slight hearing loss don’t seek treatment, it can impact your ability to understand speech.
Mild hearing loss is categorized by difficulty hearing sounds between 26 and 40 dB within the speech frequencies. People with mild hearing loss have an OK time having one-on-one conversations in quiet environments but difficulty understanding in a crowded area like a restaurant. Some people with mild hearing loss wear extended-wear devices such as the Phonak Lyric in order to function better in the workplace or social gatherings.
Moderate hearing loss means sounds in the 40-69 dB range are difficult to understand. Moderate hearing loss causes difficulty talking on the telephone and asking people to repeat themselves often. Hearing aids are the gold standard of treatment for people with moderate hearing loss.
People with severe hearing loss cannot hear sounds lower than 70-94 dB. Having a conversation with severe hearing loss may feel nearly impossible without amplification. Standard hearing aids are often helpful, but an audiologist may recommend a surgical solution such as cochlear implants.
Profound hearing loss is inability to hear sounds under 95 dB. Cochlear implants or bone anchored hearing aids typically yield the best results, but most people with this condition rely on sign language and lip reading to aid communication.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the Hearing & Balance Center at Charleston ENT.