Hearing loss is often thought of in simple terms- a reduction of overall sound- however in truth, it is a much more complicated condition. There are different types of hearing loss as well as different degrees of hearing loss and then how those impact different frequencies can vary too. Understanding these variations will be key to properly treating hearing loss.
Degrees of Hearing Loss
There are three main types of hearing loss: sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss. All three types can be rated by the degree to which a person is experiencing hearing loss.
The degree of hearing loss describes how loud a sound must be in order to hear it. It can range from mild to profound and can impact each ear differently. It is graded in terms of decibels or dB.
- Mild hearing loss means a person has difficulty hearing sounds in the 26 to 40 dB range. This includes quiet conversations or conversations with background noise as well as some ambient noises such as air conditioners or rustling leaves.
- Moderate hearing loss describes difficulty hearing sound in the 41 to 60 dB range. Since the average conversation falls in this decibel range, conversations will be difficult to hear and understand without some level of correction.
- Severe hearing loss is trouble hearing noise in the 61 to 80 dB range. This level of hearing loss will include sounds such as traffic and vacuum cleaners.
- Profound hearing loss is when the quietest sound you can hear is above 81 dB. At this level of hearing loss, a person will have difficulty hearing lawnmowers, food blenders, and power tools.
When you see your hearing health provider for suspected hearing loss they will perform a hearing evaluation that will include reviewing past medical history, signs and symptoms, and a hearing test. There are different versions of the hearing test but the most common is an audiogram.
Pure Tone Audiometry is the medical term for the hearing test. The patient will sit in a small sound proof room wearing head phones. The head phones will play beeps at different frequencies and volumes and the patient will hit a button each time they hear the beep. This will be performed for each ear separately.
Once the test is completed, an audiogram will be printed. The audiogram is a graph that displays the hearing test results. On the x-axis, or horizontal line, the frequencies are arranged with the lower pitches to the left and higher pitches to the right. The y-axis, or vertical line, is the volume in decibels needed in order to hear sound.
Both ears can be shown on the same audiogram graph with different colors representing each ear. This will allow the audiologist to compare the hearing in each ear.
The graph allows the hearing health professional to determine the degree of hearing loss. It’s important to note that an audiogram not only show the degree of hearing loss, but more specifically the degree of hearing loss for each frequency, which can vary.
For example, age-related hearing loss tends to impact higher frequencies first. This means that a person experiencing age-related hearing loss might have moderate hearing loss in the higher frequencies however maintain normal hearing levels in the lower frequencies.
Hearing loss is associated with aging is often times ignored in the early stages. This is because the degree of hearing loss begins with mild and generally only in the higher frequencies. However it will then gradually worsen.
This slower increase in loss of hearing allows the person experiencing it to make small changes in their day to day life that hides the need for treatment. For example, turning up the volume on the television.
Furthermore, it is often said “I can hear, I just can’t understand.” It is important to recognize that this difficulty understanding is considered a common symptom of hearing loss.
Early recognition of the signs and symptoms of hearing loss allows for early treatment. Treatment for age-related hearing loss is oftentimes hearing aids. The early use of hearing aids can help shorten the adjustment period when wearing new hearing devices. Tips for adjusting to hearing aids should be discussed with your hearing health provider in order to ease the transition and assist with compliance.