What causes hearing loss?

It isn’t uncommon for people with hearing difficulties to turn away from friends and family and become isolated. Loss of hearing can mean that you are no longer able to carry conversations and interact with your loved ones the same way you did in the past. This can be extremely frustrating.

The most common causes are:
  • Aging
  • Prolonged exposure to loud noises
  • Diseases such as meningitis
  • Hereditary factors
  • Certain medications

Degrees of hearing loss

The term “degrees of hearing loss” refers to the various levels of the damage. Your hearing loss may be completely different in severity than someone else’s and falls into one of four categories:
  • Mild 
  • Moderate
  • Severe
  • Profound

Audiologists measure the intensity of a sound and the degree of hearing loss in decibels (dB). What that means is, if you have a hearing loss of 40 dB, you are unable to hear sounds below 40 dB at specific frequencies.

When a certain measurement borders two distinct categories, it is referred to as a combination of the two. Your hearing is considered normal if it can detect sounds between 20-25 decibels across all frequencies. If you can hear only above that range, you are deemed to have hearing loss.
Infographic - Degrees of hearing loss
Mild Hearing Loss
If you have mild hearing loss, you may have trouble hearing sounds under 40 decibels. You have trouble detecting soft-spoken words, the noise of the refrigerator motor, or the ticking of the clock. If your hearing loss falls into this category, you do not yet have difficulty with loud or more intense vowel sounds. You will, however, likely miss some of the softer consonant sounds. If you catch yourself asking people to speak up because you cannot hear them or if you often find that people are mumbling, you should get a hearing test done by a hearing specialist. The best way to get an idea of what this stage sounds like is if you place your fingers in your ears and try to listen to someone speak.
Moderate Hearing Loss
Moderate hearing loss is one step higher on the severity scale. With this level of hearing impairment, you have trouble hearing sounds below 41 to 55 decibels. At this stage, you will not only miss the soft consonant sounds, but you will find yourself struggling to make out the vowel sounds as well. With a moderate loss in hearing ability, you will notice that even though you can hear without a hearing aid, you often can’t understand. Typically, at this stage, most people have pushed past the denial stage and recognize that they have a significant hearing problem.
Moderate-to-severe Hearing Loss
At this stage, whenever you don’t have your hearing aids in place, you do not hear spoken words. With moderate-to-severe hearing loss, you can’t hear sounds below 56-70 decibels. Even with the help of your hearing aids, it might still be difficult for you to understand speech. In this case, many people will use other communication strategies on top of their hearing aid such as lip reading.
Severe Hearing Loss
If you have severe hearing loss, you cannot hear sounds that are below 70 to 90 decibels. Even the sound of a ringing phone could be completely inaudible. To ensure a better quality of life, a hearing aid or a cochlear implant is a must. If you haven't yet, it is essential to make an appointment with a hearing care professional to get you properly evaluated.
Profound Hearing Loss
At that stage, you can only perceive sounds that are over 90 decibels. Even a very loud noise, like an airplane engine, cannot be heard. Profound hearing loss is a very serious situation, and those who face this situation often resort to lipreading to try and stay connected. The hearing aid at this point will offer only partial improvements, helping you to hear the sounds of your surroundings and even have some oral communication.
If you or someone you know are showing signs of hearing impairment, be sure to see a hearing specialist and get a hearing test done. Only a trained hearing professional can make an assessment, interpret your hearing test results and recommend the best treatment.