On the surface hearing loss might seem a straight up proposition—you don’t hear as well—but if you’ve recently been diagnosed with hearing loss you’re probably beginning to realize it’s not always that straightforward. Degree of hearing loss, type, symmetrical v unsymmetrical, fluctuating v stable are just a few of the things you might be beginning to wonder about. Feeling overwhelmed? No worries. People Hearing Better is here to simplify and help you understand your hearing loss.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are three main types of hearing loss—sensorineural (meaning the cause of changes to hearing lie within the inner ear), conductive (changes to hearing lies within the outer or middle ear), and mixed (changes to hearing happened within a combination inner, outer, or middle ear.)
Degree of Hearing Loss/ Audiogram
Understanding the degree of your hearing loss depends in large part on knowing what your audiogram says. An audiogram graphs the lowest sounds you can hear at various frequencies or pitches. Confused? Let's take a closer look.
An audiogram measures two things, decibel (dB) and hertz (Hz). A decibel can be thought of as how loud something is. A hertz as frequency or pitch, and if it helps you can think of that song from Sound of Music. When Julie Andrews sings, “Do, Re, Me, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do” she is singing different frequencies or hertz.
The higher the hertz (Hz), the higher pitched the sound. But that doesn’t necessarily increase the loudness or what we now think of as the decibel (dB) level. Nope, Julie Andrews can sing a higher hertz like Ti at the same decibel or loudness level as Do.
Now if your hearing is compromised, you may need the decibel dB level turned up in order to hear certain hertz Hz. Yep, that means you might be able to hear the La in that song just fine, but when it comes to the Do you might need the sound turned up. An audiogram map shows how loud the decibel needs to be in order for you to hear different hertz levels.
So if you had normal hearing you could generally hear a wide range of hertz Hz at the typical dB or loudness levels. Typical loudness for normal hearing falls between -10 to 15 dB. With slight hearing loss in order to hear various hertz you would need the decibels to fall between 16 and 25 decibels.
• Mild Hearing Loss: between 26 to 40 dB
• Moderate Hearing Loss: between 41 to 55 dB
• Moderately Severe Hearing Loss: between 56 to 70 dB
• Severe Hearing Loss: between 71 to 90 dB
• Profound Hearing Loss: between 90 + dB
So hearing loss is how loud the dB needs to be for you to hear different Hz. And that’s why some people can have high-frequency hearing loss. They can hear some lower hertz AKA frequencies just fine, but when it comes to the higher ones, like Ti, they need it to be louder.
Now if all of that made sense, and I really hope it did, you might still be wondering about the configuration of your hearing loss. Basically, that’s the pattern that shows up in your audiogram. Though hearing is very personal and specific, they break it down into four basic shapes of hearing loss.
Bilateral Hearing Loss—This just means that both of your ears have hearing loss. Today’s hearing aids are up for the challenge. They are in sync and work well with two-sided hearing loss.
Unilateral Hearing Loss—You guessed it! This means you have hearing loss in one ear. And there are hearing aids designed for your hearing loss too. People with unilateral hearing loss often think they can rely on their one good ear. This is a mistake. Your brain needs stimulation from both ears in order to keep functioning properly as you age. Check out further reading to learn more about unilateral hearing loss.
Symmetrical—If you’re a parent you might try to make things “even Steven” between your kids. Everyone gets the exact same amount. Well, if your hearing loss is symmetrical it basically means that it’s even Steven in both ears. Both ears have the exact same degree of hearing loss.
Asymmetrical—As hard as parents try to make things even Steven, it rarely works out. Thus the popularity of the phrase, “She’s got more than me!” Well, if your hearing is asymmetrical one of your ears has got more hearing than the other one. Sorry, kids, life isn’t always even Steven.
Progressive—Progressive hearing loss means that your hearing has been getting worse for some time and might continue to do so. It means that you didn’t wake up one morning after a loud football game and find that you had less hearing in one ear. Lucky you.
Sudden Hearing Loss—This type of hearing loss happens all at once say from trauma or a really loud noise. Sometimes it happens and you have no idea why your hearing is no longer working. It just stopped or started to feel stuffed up or clogged. This is actually a very serious situation. If you woke up this morning and your hearing was altered, GO TO A HEARING DOCTOR. People often ignore this situation thinking their hearing will return to normal, but that can cost you. You have a short time window after the onset of sudden hearing loss when you could actually save part or all of your hearing. So don’t delay. And please make sure to see a hearing health specialist. A family doctor might not be aware of the latest treatments for sudden hearing loss that could benefit a patient.
Fluctuating Hearing Loss—This means that your hearing loss may get better or worse over time.
Stable Hearing Loss—This is used to describe hearing loss that will stay the same.
If you'd like to learn more about your hearing loss speak with your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!
Unilateral Hearing Loss
Sudden Hearing Loss
Causes of Hearing Loss