What is Hearing Loss?

Having a hearing loss means you have lost the ability to hear certain sounds. Sometimes the hearing loss is temporary, which can occur after being exposed to loud noise or due to a wax blockage. However, hearing loss can be permanent due to damage or changes in the auditory system.


Hearing Loss Symptoms

The onset of hearing loss is gradual in many cases and therefore, the effects are not immediately noticed. Common symptoms of hearing loss include the following:

  • Difficulty hearing in noisy environments
  • Missing parts of conversation or certain words
  • Asking to turn up the volume on the radio or the TV
  • Frequent need for people to repeat themselves
  • Difficulty hearing conversation on the telephone
  • Ringing or buzzing in the ears (Tinnitus)

While the symptoms of hearing loss can vary from person to person, the particular challenges faced by an individual are significantly influenced by the type and degree of hearing loss they are experiencing.

Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can generally be categorized into three main types: conductive, sensorineural and mixed.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or to the nerves that travel from the ear to the brain. This is the most common type of permanent hearing loss. In most cases, medicine or surgery cannot improve this type of hearing loss, but hearing aids may help you hear better.

Some common causes of sensorineural hearing loss include:

  • Noise Exposure
  • Aging
  • Infection or virus
  • Drugs or Medication
  • Genetic Conditions

Conductive hearing loss occurs when the passage of sound is blocked in either the ear canal (outer ear) or in the middle ear. In many cases, conductive hearing loss can be medically or surgically treated.

Some common causes of conductive hearing loss include:

  • Build up of ear wax within the ear canal
  • Swimmer’s ear
  • Perforation (hole) in the eardrum
  • Middle ear infection (otitis media)

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of the other two types of hearing loss, conductive and sensorineural. For individuals with this type of hearing problem, the conductive portion of the hearing loss may be medically treatable, however the sensorineural portion will likely require hearing aids or some other type of amplification.

ear diagram

What are the different levels or degrees of hearing loss?

Hearing loss is typically divided into four categories or severity levels: mild, moderate, severe and profound. Hearing loss that borders between two categories are generally labeled as a combination of the two categories listed below.

Mild hearing loss

Individuals with mild hearing loss will typically have challenges hearing and understanding soft speech, speech from a distance or speech in the presence of background noise.

Moderate hearing loss

Individuals with moderate hearing loss will often have difficulty hearing speech at normal volume, even at close distances.

Severe hearing loss

Individuals with severe hearing loss may only hear very loud speech or loud sounds in the environment, such as a fire truck siren or a door slamming. Most conversational speech will not be heard.

Profound hearing loss

You may only perceive loud sounds as vibrations.

What is an audiogram?

The audiogram is a graph showing the results of a pure-tone hearing test. The audiogram will display the softest level you heard in each ear across the frequency range (from low-pitch sounds to high-pitch sounds).

The audiogram shows the type, degree, and configuration of hearing loss.

A hearing threshold of between 0 and 25 dB is considered normal.


  • Mild hearing loss: 25 to 40 dB
  • Moderate hearing loss: 40 to 55 dB
  • Moderate-to-severe hearing loss: 55 to 70 dB
  • Severe hearing loss: 70 to 90 dB
  • Profound loss: 90 dB or more

How to read an audiogram?

The vertical axis of the audiogram represents sound volume or intensity, which is measured in decibels (dB). The farther down the axis, the louder the sound becomes.

The horizontal axis of the audiogram represents sound frequency or pitch measured in Hertz (Hz). Sound frequency increases gradually the further you move to  the right along the axis. This is comparable to playing on the left side of a piano and gradually moving to the right side where the notes becomes higher in pitch.

What are the benefits of treating hearing loss?

Treating hearing loss with amplification devices, such as hearing aids, can result in significant improvement in quality of life.

Studies and experience have found many benefits of treating hearing loss, including:

  • Improved relationships with family and friends
  • Improved psychological well being
  • Feeling less tired or exhausted
  • Being able to participate more in social gatherings
  • Improved ability to concentrate
  • Better performance at work
  • Increased earning power