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6 Degrees of Hearing Loss

Let’s talk about hearing loss. Specifically, degrees of hearing loss as measured in a hearing evaluation.

What is a hearing evaluation?

Similar to an annual medical check-up or twice-yearly dental check-up, a hearing evaluation can be an essential part of your regular health routine even before you suspect you have hearing loss. An annual evaluation can determine a baseline of your hearing and monitor any changes to your hearing. Scheduling one becomes especially important if you begin to notice signs of a hearing loss, as treating that loss early can help prevent further loss and related health problems.

During a hearing evaluation, your hearing healthcare provider will take a health history and run several tests such as a pure tone test and speech test. They will determine the type of hearing loss you may have (sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss or mixed hearing loss), it’s configuration (one ear or both), and the degree of hearing loss you may have. From there, your provider may discuss options on how best to treat any hearing loss based on your unique hearing loss and lifestyle.

Degrees of hearing loss

During a hearing evaluation, a hearing healthcare professional determines your degree of hearing loss in relation to what is considered “normal” hearing. This helps inform decisions about how to treat the hearing loss.

Based on the concept of “audiometric zero,” the frequency range detectable by someone with normal hearing and generally between 0 dBHL (Decibel Hearing Level) to approximately 20 dBHL, the different degrees of hearing loss are as follows:

  • Slight hearing loss = Hearing loss of 16 to 25 decibels. This hearing loss still falls partially within the “normal” hearing range but can make listening to and understanding some speech difficult.
  • Mild hearing loss = Hearing loss of 26 to 40 decibels. This hearing loss can make conversations in noisy environments difficult and is generally treated with hearing aids.
  • Moderate hearing loss = Hearing loss of 41 to 55 decibels. This hearing loss may require asking others to repeat themselves and is generally treated with hearing aids.
  • Moderately severe hearing loss = Hearing loss of 56 to 70 decibels. This hearing loss requires hearing aids to hear most conversations.
  • Severe hearing loss = Hearing loss of 71 to 90 decibels. This hearing loss requires hearing aids to hear speech and conversation.
  • Profound hearing loss = Hearing loss of more than 91 decibels. This hearing loss allows for only the loudest sounds and conversations to be heard and may be treated with hearing aids or a cochlear implant.

Any hearing loss greater than 40 decibels is considered a hearing impairment.

Let’s relate these decibel levels to real-world sounds for a better idea of what each degree of hearing loss really means:

  • Normal breathing: 10 dB
  • Quiet countryside: 20 dB
  • Whispering at 5 feet: 20 dB
  • Refrigerator hum: 40 dB
  • Conversation: 60 dB
  • Gas-powered lawn mower: 80 dB
  • Motorcycle: 95 dB
  • Jet engine: 140 dB

There are many degrees and nuances of hearing loss. The best way to diagnose and treat any hearing loss is to schedule a hearing evaluation then work with your hearing healthcare provider to determine the best next steps.

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