Hearing loss manifests in different ways for everyone. It can appear anywhere on a spectrum from mild to severe, and doesn’t always affect both ears or have the same effect. In short, there’s no one way to experience hearing loss — and there are several ways to treat it.
First, let’s talk about recognizing different types of hearing loss. Generally, when an audiologist determines the severity of your hearing loss, he or she looks at the levels of sound you can hear. An audiogram — a graph charting the results of a pure-tone hearing test — will show what level your hearing clocks in at.
Degrees of hearing loss
There are seven degrees audiologists use to classify hearing loss: normal, slight, mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe, and profound. Each of these levels is measured in decibels (dB HL); someone who exhibits mild hearing loss, for example, will not hear sounds that measure –10 to 15 dB HL, while someone with profound hearing loss will not hear sounds at 91 dB HL and above.
For a reference point, an average person with normal hearing can hear sounds at about 0 dB HL and up to about 140 dB HL. Someone with slight or mild hearing loss might not hear the sound of a leaf falling or hushed whispering; someone with severe or profound hearing loss might not hear a vacuum cleaner, a truck passing by, or a helicopter circling above.
Shapes of hearing loss
Now, let’s look at shapes of hearing loss. In some cases, the level of hearing loss may only take place in one ear, or be unbalanced. There are four main types of hearing loss.
Bilateral vs. unilateral – If your audiologist says you have bilateral hearing loss, that means you’re experiencing hearing loss in both ears. Unilateral hearing loss occurs in only one ear. This type of hearing loss usually ranges from mild to very severe, and can occur in both adults and children.
The causes of this type of hearing loss are broad; those who suffer from either bilateral or unilateral hearing loss may be subject to genetic or hereditary hearing loss; have an outer, inner or middle ear abnormality; have been exposed to significant loud noise or a variety of other causes.
Symmetrical vs. asymmetrical – Symmetrical hearing loss means your level and type of hearing loss is identical in both ears. If hearing loss is asymmetrical, you’re exhibiting different levels of hearing loss in each ear; one ear may be able to hear more sounds at different levels than the other.
Progressive vs. sudden hearing loss – It’s likely that you know someone with hearing loss whose hearing has continued to deteriorate over time; this is common, and it’s called progressive hearing loss. Sudden hearing loss, on the other hand, can affect anyone at any time. It can also occur when patients have been subjected to sudden and unexpected noises at dangerous volumes.
Fluctuating vs. stable hearing loss – Sometimes hearing loss changes over time, getting worse or, occasionally, getting better which is referred to as fluctuating. Stable hearing loss means that your level of hearing loss doesn’t change or hasn’t changed.
Whatever your level and shape of hearing loss, rest assured that your audiologist can properly diagnose and provide the right guidance and rehabilitation.
Are you being affected by hearing loss? Make an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist at Associated Audiologists, and learn more about our comprehensive care and affordable, advanced solutions for all aspects of your hearing health.