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Detecting Hearing Loss: Defining Normal

Most of us expect to experience some level of hearing loss as we grow older, especially as our years begin the ascent over 65. For many others, hearing loss may come a lot sooner due to genetic conditions or unprotected, prolonged exposure to noise at varying frequencies.

But for those of us in the middle, how do we know what normal is? Well, one way is to obtain a conventional hearing examination. But the “within normal limits” grade you receive on your hearing test, doesn’t actually say a whole lot.

That’s because the standards by which hearing loss was first set do not take a comprehensive multi-perspective approach to hearing. While it’s a good indicator of whether your hearing is functional, it may miss nuanced issues that have hereditary or environmental contributing factors.

Origins In Hearing Assessments

The first hearing test was derived from a research study performed on a group of thousands of participants at the 1933 World Fair. Normal hearing is based on an “audiometric zero,” which represents the pure tone level of a particular frequency that can be detected by a normal hearing person.

To establish the audiometric zero, researchers at the fair computed the average lowest level participants could hear at varying frequencies. From that point, they created a formula to apply to hearing evaluations to determine whether or not an individual has hearing loss.

Audiometric Zero

Normal hearing is defined within a range of 0 dbHL (audiometric zero) and 20 dbHL at any given frequency. Ability to hear frequencies between 0 and 20 dBHL indicates normal hearing. Anything frequency that requires more than 20 dbHL to detect is considered a sign of hearing loss. Some frequencies may fall well within normal while other frequencies do not. This all depends on the nature of the hearing loss, and environmental and genetic conditions that contributed to the exposure.

The best way to get a real picture of normal hearing is to not only obtain a conventional hearing test like the one described above but to visit your hearing health professional to assess other nuanced characteristics of your hearing. What may be normal hearing for you may not be for someone else. Because of the unique nature of the hearing and auditory processing mechanisms, a comprehensive approach to hearing loss is your best bet for equipping yourself with the best tools to enhance your hearing.

While noise exposure is one of the biggest culprits behind hearing loss, a condition which is easily detected by conventional methods; there are a variety of other conditions that contribute to your ability to hear different sounds, in different situations, at varying levels of quality.

Contributing Factors

Hidden Hearing Loss, Cochlear Synaptopathy, Extended high-frequency hearing loss, Auditory Processing Disorders, Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder, aging, dementia, cognitive decline, presbycusis, traumatic brain injury, noise-induced hearing loss, mild cognitive impairment, receptive aphasia, neurocognitive disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and many others are just a few on a seemingly endless list of factors that can contribute to your ability to hear “normally.” Your hearing is as unique as you are, so treat it with care and contact your hearing health professional today.

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