Hearing loss is a complex and diverse condition. It has many causes and can present itself if various ways. Regardless of the root cause or type of hearing loss, it can be categorized by the degree of loss.
What are the Degrees of Hearing Loss?
As mentioned, hearing loss presents itself in many ways. It can be one sided, only occurring in one ear, or it can occur in each ear at different rates. Furthermore, there are different ways to categorize hearing loss. For example, there are three primary types of hearings loss: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed hearing loss.
However, one of the most common questions a person with hearing loss gets is “How much can you hear?” This can be answered by describing the degrees of hearing loss. These are mild, moderate, severe, and profound. In this case, sound is measured in decibels (dB).
- Mild hearing loss is the most under-diagnosed level of hearing loss. Especially when it occurs gradually over time, as it does with age-related hearing loss. Those with mild hearing loss have difficulty hearing sounds less than 40dB. This includes leaves rustling and whispers.
- Moderate hearing loss is the next degree of hearing loss. For those with moderate hearing loss, sounds in the 41dB to 60dB range are difficult to hear. This would unfortunately include most conversations.
- Severe hearing loss would encompass sounds in the 61dB to 80dB range. Those with severe hearing loss have difficulty hearing traffic noise, vacuum cleaners, and some alarm clocks.
- Profound hearing loss is the highest level of hearing loss. For those with profound hearing loss, sounds greater than 81dB are difficult to hear. This would include lawn mowers, power tools, and hair dryers.
How to test for Hearing Loss?
If you have begun to notice changes to your hearing, or others have mentioned noticing this, it’s time to see an audiologist for a hearing test.
The first time you visit an audiologist they will want to review your past medical and occupational history. This is because there are many possible causes for hearing loss and further hearing loss may be prevented by addressing other medical issues or occupational hazards.
They will then review any signs or symptoms you are experiencing. This can range from a difficulty understanding conversations to trouble hearing with background noise. Phone conversations and watching television may have become more difficult as well.
The final step will be to complete a hearing test, or audiogram. For the audiogram, you will sit in a small quiet room while wearing headphones. Through the headphone, beeps of different volumes and frequencies will play. When you hear a beep you press a button. The results of the audiogram are printed on a graph.
The graph from the hearing test shows volume in decibels on one axis and frequency on the other. Both ears are shown on the same graph in different colors for comparison purposes. Audiologists use this information to determine whether you have mild, moderate, severe, or profound hearing loss.
Treatment for Hearing Loss
Once the hearing test is complete, an audiologist will be able to determine the best course of treatment. The two main forms of treatment for hearing loss are hearing aids and cochlear implants.
Hearing aids are used to treat mild, moderate, and sometimes severe hearing loss. Using the results of the hearing test, hearing aids can be programmed to amplify the exact frequencies needed to the exact level. The volume can be altered based on the user’s hearing comfort as well as if their hearing changes over time.
Hearing aids come in many varieties. They can be fit to sit behind the ear or in the ear and come in many sizes. Therefore it can be easier to find a comfortable fit that works well for your lifestyle. Hearing aids are the primary treatment for age-related hearing loss.
Cochlear implants are small surgically implanted devices that are used to treat profound hearing loss. Unlike hearing aids that amplify sounds, cochlear implants work by stimulating the auditory nerve in order to interpret input into a sound the user recognizes.