Have you noticed that other people seem to hear sounds you can’t hear, such as the song of birds or the leaves in the breeze? Perhaps you find that you have to ask people to repeat themselves more than you’d like? These are common signs of hearing loss and it’s a good idea to schedule a hearing test as soon as possible. Hearing health care will be able to diagnose your hearing from slight, mild, moderate, severe or profound. To understand how your hearing is classified, it’s important to understand the baseline. In this case, the baseline that hearing loss is measured against is referred to as “normal” hearing, but what exactly is normal hearing?
How is “Normal” Hearing Classified?
Sound is measured in decibels (dB). The louder the sound, the higher the decibel level. When your hearing is measured during a hearing test it will be recorded on an audiogram, which is a graph that maps hearing ability. Every pitch or frequency has a moment when it is so quiet that it is barely detectable to your ears. This is referred to as the hearing threshold and is the quietest sound you are able to detect.
Normal hearing is the basis for determining a hearing loss. The quietest sound that the average person can detect is 0dB. Not everyone with normal hearing can hear sounds at this decibel level and so a sliding scale of 0 dB to 20 dB is defined as a normal hearing threshold.
What About Sounds Below 0dB?
Amazingly some people’s hearing is so acute that they can hear sounds below 0 dB. In part, this is because the hearing threshold is defined as an average of a range of detectable sounds. Some people with extremely sharp hearing can hear a fluctuation which can fluctuate below and above 0 dB! This is why “normal” hearing is defined as a range between -10dB to 20dB.
Understanding Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can be caused by many factors such as exposure to noise, a blockage in the ear canal, certain medications, head trauma or just a lifetime of listening. In many of these instances, hearing loss occurs when the tiny hair-like cells of the inner ear which transmit sound to the brain become damaged. This often occurs gradually which is why hearing loss is classified by its severity. Understanding the severity of your hearing loss can help you and your audiologist determine the best treatment for your hearing loss. Your audiologist will refer to your audiogram to determine the degree of hearing loss.
If your hearing threshold is below 20dB, then you are in the clear. However, a threshold over 20dB is classified as a hearing loss. Here is a list of the degrees of hearing loss with their corresponding decibel range:
- Mild hearing loss is measured in between 20 to 40dB.
- Moderate hearing loss is between 41 to 55dB.
- Moderately severe hearing loss is between 56 to 70dB.
- Severe hearing loss is between 71 to 90dB.
- Profound hearing loss is any threshold over 91dB.
While this might seem overly technical, sounds that measure 20dB include a whisper or leaves in the breeze. A decibel level of 40dB is the quiet of a busy library. Most conversations register on average at 60dB, and home appliances such as a hair dryer, food blender or garbage disposal averages at 80dB. Any sound which rises over 85 decibels will slowly start to deplete your hearing’ threshold, causing permanent hearing loss over time.
Do You Have Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is a progressive issue, meaning that it is important to monitor it annually. You may have a hearing threshold between 0dB and 15dB now. but over time this can become 15dB to 20dB. As long as your threshold is below 20dB, you technically have normal hearing loss, but it also means that your hearing may slowly be declining. If you let too many years go between testing, your hearing could be declining and you won’t even know it.
Treating Hearing Loss
While hearing loss is irreversible in most cases, it can be treated with hearing aids. These amazing devices can amplify the sounds you struggle with, increasing your hearing threshold. This allows you to participate in conversation and enjoy the life you love, hearing loud and clear. Schedule a hearing test today to find out exactly how well you can hear!