Mild, Moderate, Severe, and Profound

Hearing loss comes in many forms—and has many different sources.

For some people, it's the result of prolonged exposure to unhealthy levels of noise. For others, it's age-related, the result of their auditory organs simply wearing down over time.

Still, others may experience hearing impairment due to an illness, injury, or genetic condition.

Hearing loss is broadly classified in two ways: frequency and severity.

Hearing Loss Classification by Frequency

The first is by frequency. Generally, the normal range of human hearing is from 20 Hz (infrasound) to 20,000 Hz (ultrasound).

The two types of hearing loss under this category are as follows:

  • High-frequency hearing loss means you're unable to hear high-pitched sounds such as birdsong, a child's voice, or certain consonants. 
  • Low-frequency hearing loss refers to difficulty hearing sounds such as the bass of a song or the rumble of thunder. 

Hearing Loss Classification by Severity

The second classification of hearing loss relates to severity. It's a measure of the volume at which sounds become imperceptible to you, measured in decibels (dB). The degrees of hearing loss, also known in some cases as degrees of deafness, are as follows, per the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:

  • Normal Hearing (0-15 dB). Your ears are healthy. You have no issue hearing even faint sounds, such as breathing (10 dB) or the wind rustling through leaves (20 dB) 
  • Mild Hearing Loss (16-40 dB). You have trouble hearing soft sounds, such as a ticking watch (20 dB) or whispering (30 dB). Mild hearing loss may be inconvenient, but it rarely has a significant impact on one's quality of life.
  • Moderate Hearing Loss (41-70 dB). Your hearing loss is becoming increasingly noticeable, both to yourself and those around you. You may have difficulty understanding speech or find yourself unable to hear common sounds like your phone's ringtone. At the upper level of moderate hearing loss, even sounds such as a washing machine or vacuum cleaner may be muffled or undetectable. 
  • Severe Hearing Loss (71-90 dB).  Most sounds are muffled or indiscernible. Regular conversation is difficult, if not impossible. Towards the upper end of severe hearing loss, you become unable to even make out sounds such as heavy traffic (~80 dB) or shouting (90 dB). 
  • Profound Hearing Loss (90+ dB). You are functionally deaf. While you may still be able to make out extreme noise such as fireworks, industrial machinery, or jet engines, the vast majority of sound is indiscernible to you. Communication is nearly impossible without sign language or a hearing aid.

Who Can I Turn To for Help With My Hearing Loss?

If you suspect you may be suffering from even mild hearing loss, we'd advise booking an appointment with a hearing professional. The sooner you identify potential hearing impairment, the better your prognosis for long-term treatment. It's also important to understand that hearing impairment is not some sort of death sentence.

You can still live an incredibly rich and fulfilling life, with or without a hearing aid.