How to describe hearing loss

To understand and describe your own hearing loss, or a loved one’s, there are a number of things you will need to consider.

Here are some of the common questions you can ask yourself when considering if you have acquired a hearing loss.

1. How severe is your hearing loss?

This is the simplest and most frequent way of describing hearing loss. Hearing has five severity levels – normal, mild, moderate, severe and profound – and these terms are commonly used by audiologists.

By and large, if you have a mild hearing loss you will be able to hear a conversation without much struggle. If you’re in a quiet room near the person talking and as long as there is little background noise. However, you may struggle when louder background noise is present.

If you have a severe to profound hearing loss you will be unable to hear what another person is saying under almost most circumstances.

However, there is much more you need to know before you can understand your hearing fully, as it is not simply about hearing individual sounds and tones.

2. What type of sounds can you hear?

The most common type of hearing loss is a high-frequency hearing loss frequently found in older people, called presbyacusis.

This makes speech muffled and harder to follow. You can hear the words, but cannot always understand what is being said.

You can also have a low frequency hearing loss. In this case, you may have lost some of the mid frequencies; or you may have an equal loss across all the frequencies.

Some people are particularly sensitive to loud sounds.

Each of these will have different effects on how hard you find it to follow speech, and how comfortable you feel in different sound situations.

Your audiologist may use the terms conductive, sensory, sensorineural, or mixed when describing your hearing.

These terms indicate which part of your auditory pathway is damaged. Understanding them can help you to understand why you hear sounds as you do, and the type of help you can expect from a hearing aid.

3. Is your hearing the same all the time?

Your hearing may be exactly the same every day and at all times during the day, or it may fluctuate during the day or from week to week. A fluctuating hearing loss can be quite bewildering if you don’t realise that you can hear better on some occasions.

4. Do you also have tinnitus?

Tinnitus (noises you can hear that are not caused by sounds in the outside world) can make it much harder to hear with any given level of hearing loss.

If your tinnitus changes from time to time it will mean you can sometimes hear better on some occasions. Even though your hearing remains the same, this can happen because the sound of the tinnitus will block out what you are trying to listen to.

Tinnitus can also disturb your sleep or make it difficult for you to concentrate. Please visit our pages on tinnitus for more information.

5. How old were you when your hearing began to change?

If your hearing loss began when from birth / in childhood, you will experience your remaining hearing differently than if you lost your hearing later in life. Your voice may be different, and your emotional relationship with your hearing may be different. If you have been accustomed to hearing all your life and then it changes, there are some difficult adjustments to make.

6. How quickly did your hearing change?

Don’t delay if you experience a sudden or very rapid loss of hearing. It’s considered a medical emergency and you should seek urgent care at the Accident & Emergency department of your nearest hospital where you should be treated by an ENT doctor. Visit our page on sudden hearing loss.

Much more commonly, hearing changes takes place over a long period of time, sometimes over many years. You may find it difficult to know exactly when the loss began, and it can take time before you realise it’s happening. Often, the people around you will notice it before you do for the obvious reason that if you don’t hear something, you usually don’t know you haven’t heard it.

Webpage updated: April 2024

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