Hearing aids are among the most common interventions to help restore hearing.
These amplification devices do not cure hearing loss but have helped millions of people raise their quality of life.
Hearing loss varies widely, both in severity and cause.
While profound hearing loss may require interventions like cochlear implants, they are typically not appropriate for more mild forms of hearing loss.
In this article, we explore the degrees of hearing impairment in more detail and discuss whether or not hearing aids make an effective option for mild hearing loss.
What Is Hearing Loss?
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCC), around 37.5 million people in the United States live with hearing loss — roughly 15 percent of American adults. Some estimates are even higher.
Hearing Loss and the Auditory System
The auditory system is composed of the outer, middle, inner ear, and auditory nerve.
The outer and middle ear helps gather and direct sound waves to the inner ear. The inner ear houses the cochlea and thousands of sensory cells called hair cells.
This help convert sounds into electrical impulses sent to the brain for processing. Any disruption or damage in this system can cause hearing loss.
What Is the Difference Between Conductive and Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Hearing impairments generally fit into three categories: Conductive, sensorineural hearing, and mixed hearing loss (a combination of the other two). Each distinctive form of hearing loss has unique causes.
Conductive Hearing Loss
This hearing loss occurs when sound waves cannot pass through the outer ear and ear canal and into the middle ear.
Sound is somehow inhibited from reaching the inner ear.
Common causes of conductive hearing loss include:
- Obstruction – Obstructions by a foreign body are a common cause of hearing. Small objects can impede sound waves from reaching the inner ear. Ear infections can do this through inflammation and fluid buildup.
- Trauma to middle ear – Trauma to the small bones in the middle ear (ossicles) can disrupt the sound transfer to the inner ear, causing hearing loss.
- Earwax buildup – Earwax (cerumen) can clog the ear canal, not allowing sound to pass through to the middle ear.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs through damage or degeneration of the inner ear and auditory nerve.
The two primary culprits for sensorineural hearing loss are aging and exposure to loud noise.
- Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) – Age is the strongest predictor of sensorineural hearing loss. In fact, in the United States alone, age-related hearing loss affects roughly one in three older adults between the ages of 65 and 74.
- Noise-induced hearing loss – Sensorineural hearing loss also occurs through exposure to loud noise. This can happen suddenly or through long-term exposure. In the United States, around 40 million people are living with some form of noise-induced hearing loss.
What Are the Signs of Hearing Loss?
Conductive and sensorineural hearing loss can occur in one ear (unilateral) or both (bilateral).
While conductive hearing loss can be temporary, sensorineural hearing loss is often permanent.
Here are a few signs to look out for:
- Troubles hearing speech in environments with a lot of background noise.
- Difficulty in determining where sounds are coming from.
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
- Issues hearing speech over the phone.
- Having to turn up the volume on the TV and other devices.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, additional symptoms of conductive hearing loss may include ear discomfort or pain, dizziness or vertigo, or aural fullness (feeling of stuffiness in the ears).
What Are the Degrees of Hearing Loss?
Typically, hearing loss is divided into levels or degrees of severity.
A hearing healthcare provider determines the degree of hearing loss through an audiometry test.
Hearing tests and audiograms help audiologists determine the level of hearing loss. This hearing loss is measured in decibels (dB).
Normal hearing loss is considered between -10 to 15 dB.
The table below shows the other classifications of hearing loss according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
Level of hearing loss
Hearing loss range in decibels (dB)
Slight hearing loss
16 to 25
Mild hearing loss
26 to 40
Moderate hearing loss
41 to 55
Moderately severe hearing loss
56 to 70
Severe hearing loss
71 to 90
Profound hearing loss
What Is Mild Hearing Loss?
While mild hearing loss may not present that much of an issue at the outset, it can make life a bit harder, especially regarding work and social situations.
By definition, mild hearing loss is the inability to hear sounds that are quieter than 25 dB. This sound level includes whispering, rustling leaves, or chirping birds.
It is common for those with mild hearing loss to have difficulty hearing different pitches.
Typically, the ability to discern high-frequency pitches is the first to go. Mild hearing loss can strain daily life, especially in conversation.
Are Hearing Aids Useful for Mild Hearing Loss?
People with mild hearing loss are often good candidates for listening devices like hearing aids.
One study found that hearing aids improved the hearing-specific health-related quality of life for those with mild to moderate forms of hearing loss. This included better listening and improved communication.
In general, hearing aids are listening devices that help amplify the sound vibrations that enter the ear.
There are many different styles of hearing aids available on the market today to fit nearly every hearing ability.
The good news is that those with mild hearing loss often have more high-quality hearing aid styles to choose from.
For example, most new hearing aids come with Bluetooth connectivity options, making it easy to connect with smartphones or other devices.
Types of hearing aid styles include:
- Behind-the-Ear (BTE) – The largest of the hearing aid styles, BTEs often have rechargeable batteries and are easiest to clean. But these tend to be more useful for those with moderate to severe hearing loss.
- In-the-Ear (ITE) – These are a bit smaller than BTEs and typically come with telecoils which help cut down on feedback. However, they are more prone to earwax buildup than BTEs.
- Receiver-in-Canal (RIC) – Being smaller than the BTEs, RIC-style hearing aids provide a nice middle ground for those looking for comfort-fit hearing aids without the bulk.
- In-the-Canal (ITC) – Canal-style hearing aids are the most discreet style of hearing aid. They also work best for those with mild hearing loss. One disadvantage is their susceptibility to earwax and moisture buildup.
Those with mild hearing loss have more options to choose from. The best type of hearing device depends largely on performance and comfort.
Can You Prevent Mild Hearing Loss?
While hearing aids are useful for mild hearing loss, prevention of further damage is also important. Mild hearing loss is the most preventable form of hearing loss. This is especially true when it comes to noise-induced hearing loss.
Here are a few tips to help mitigate further damage to your hearing:
- Wear protective ear coverings in loud settings. This could include earplugs or over-the-head earmuffs.
- Turn the music down. A lot of damage is done by blasting music from earbuds.
- Visit your healthcare professional sooner than later. Early detection could help catch hearing loss early, helping you get on a better path to hearing health.
Seeking Treatment Is Important
Mild hearing loss could lead to cognitive decline. Research has shown a link between hearing loss and dementia.
Furthermore, among older adults, hearing loss can lead to social isolation, depression, and more. So, early detection of hearing loss could positively affect mental health.
The Bottom Line
Hearing aids are thought to be a tool that is only reserved for those with severe hearing loss. However, that simply isn’t true.
There are hearing aid options for mild hearing loss. These listening devices can help improve your or your loved one's quality of life.
If you have trouble hearing and suspect mild hearing loss, it’s best to consult an audiology professional who can run all the necessary hearing tests and provide medical advice on the best treatment options.
Check out the USA Rx Hearing Loss Blog for more information on hearing loss.