“Can you speak up?”
“Someone turn the volume up, please.”
If these statements sound like part of your daily vernacular, it could mean you’re experiencing symptoms of hearing loss.
While the inability to hear can dramatically change your quality of life, plenty of treatments can help you regain your ability to keep up with the conversation, including using different types of hearing aids.
We’ll talk about the differences between normal hearing and hearing loss, understand what causes hearing loss, and tell you the signs and symptoms that mean you’d benefit from a hearing aid.
How Does Hearing Work?
Your ability to hear wrests on the structures in your outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear.
These structures transform sound waves into electrical signals delivered to your brain and interpreted as sound.
When one or some of these structures is damaged, you may experience permanent hearing loss.
The type of hearing loss you experience depends on damaged structures.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
If the structures in your inner ear, called the cochlea, hair cells, semicircular canals, and auditory nerve, are damaged, you have sensorineural hearing loss.
Age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, is an example of sensorineural hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss
When hearing loss occurs due to damage to the structures of the outer or middle ear (like the ear canal or eardrum), you have conductive hearing loss.
Injury and trauma are common causes of this type of hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss can also result from blockages in the ear canal and even earwax buildup.
Recurrent ear infections may also cause damage to the structures of the middle and outer ear and result in hearing loss.
What Is Normal Hearing?
Sound is measured in decibels.
Your ability to hear includes hearing a wide range of decibels. For someone with normal hearing, sounds between -15 and 20 decibels are within an audible range.
When someone experiences a hearing loss, it means sounds must be louder than 20 decibels before they can hear them.
This results in a scale of hearing loss that audiologists and hearing professionals use to determine the degree of hearing loss someone has.
Mild Hearing Loss
Losing your ability to hear sounds under 26-40 decibels means you have mild hearing loss.
This level of hearing loss may make it hard for you to hear some people with softer voices or higher-pitched tones, but it doesn’t usually require hearing amplification.
Moderate Hearing Loss
You may have moderate hearing loss when you begin having more trouble hearing conversations, especially if there is a lot of background noise.
This type of hearing loss requires sound to be at least 41 to 50 decibels for the person to hear it. At this level of hearing loss, you may lose the ability to hear certain consonants spoken at a higher pitch.
Moderately Severe Hearing Loss
At this level of hearing loss, you begin losing the ability to keep up with conversations.
You have serious difficulty hearing, especially in noisy environments. You may also be unable to hear sounds like cars passing, alarms, or doorbells.
Sounds must be at least 56 to 70 decibels before hearing them if you have moderately severe hearing loss.
Severe Hearing Loss
This serious hearing loss requires sounds to reach 71 to 90 decibels before you can hear them.
You’ll likely need a hearing aid or even a cochlear implant to regain your hearing ability.
Profound Hearing Loss
In audiology, profound hearing loss is synonymous with deafness.
Without hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other amplification methods, you won’t be able to hear alarms or even jet engines. Sound must reach 91 decibels before you can hear them.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
Losing your ability to hear can happen for many reasons.
Sometimes, it happens gradually, but it can also suddenly happen if you have an accident or injury.
The most common causes of hearing loss are:
- Exposure to loud noise
- Impulse noises like fireworks or gunshots
- Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss
- Diseases or infections in the ear
- Trauma or injury
You can find out if you have sustained hearing loss by having a hearing test.
How Is Hearing Loss Diagnosed?
An audiologist or hearing professional can administer a hearing test, called an audiogram, to determine if you have lost any of your ability to hear.
Your healthcare provider is a good place to start. They can refer you to the appropriate hearing specialist to have your hearing tested and discuss your hearing care options.
Five Signs You May Need a Hearing Aid
Better hearing improves your quality of life and can help you stay socially active.
Hearing aids amplify sound and deliver it to your cochlea via a microphone.
There are numerous different styles of hearing aids, some of which are hardly visible.
Untreated hearing loss can result in social isolation, trouble understanding others, and even early onset dementia. Here are five signs it could be time to consider hearing aids.
1. You Have Moderate Hearing Loss
Most professionals agree that if you have documented moderate hearing loss, you are a good candidate for hearing aids.
These hearing devices can help you understand conversations and make hearing your loved ones easier.
2. You Hear But Don’t Understand
You can hear people talking, but you seem to miss most of what they are saying, especially if you are in a crowded or noisy room.
It may always seem like people around you are mumbling or skipping over their words.
3. Crowded Places Make You Uncomfortable
Background noise can make it harder for someone with hearing loss to hear properly.
If you routinely avoid noisy places or feel it’s impossible to hear someone talking to you in a cafe or busy store, it could be a sign of hearing loss.
4. You’re Canceling Plans
Canceling plans, especially when they include people and things you love, can signify hearing loss that requires a hearing aid.
Social isolation is common among people with hearing loss, as it becomes easier to stay home and avoid situations where you are afraid you won’t be able to hear others.
5. Everyone Around You Notices the Volume Is Loud
Listening to your music or television at a volume that is uncomfortable to everyone but you may indicate that it’s time to see a specialist about your hearing health.
It’s also important to protect your hearing by using hearing aids to protect your remaining hearing.
Losing your hearing can be a part of getting older or can happen due to injury or exposure to noise.
No matter how you’ve lost your hearing, using a hearing device that helps you hear better is the smart choice for people who want to keep their remaining hearing and continue enjoying their quality of life.