Hearing loss has become more common nowadays. According to the World Health Organisation(WHO), 5% (430 million) people worldwide suffer from hearing loss, and they predict that the global hearing loss rate will be around 10% by 2050. With its rising trend, people are paying more attention to their hearing condition as hearing is essential for communication, entertainment and safety. But how exactly can you know if you have hearing loss or not? While visiting a hearing care professional is the best way to get a definite answer, several signs of hearing loss are observable in our daily lives.
What are the Most Common Signs of Hearing Loss?
A hearing test is the most direct and easy way to tell whether your hearing is impaired, but those tests are not always available, and not many people know how to read the hearing test results. In addition, a comprehensive hearing test takes time and money, so you may want to check signs of hearing loss before investing in visiting a clinic.
Fortunately, the impacts of hearing loss can be observed in our daily lives. Here are some of the observable signs of hearing loss:
- Muffled sound: Sounds are quieter, as if your hands are covering your ears, making you unable to hear clearly.
- Unable to understand words: You may hear voices, but you cannot interpret those voices into words, especially in a noisy environment such as a busy restaurant.
- Asking someone to repeat themselves: Saying “Pardon” or “Could you repeat that please” is inevitable for a person with hearing-impairment.
- Increasing volume: When watching videos or films, you may feel that the volume is low, even though you have already turned it up.
- Others complain you are speaking loudly: You cannot hear yourself, so you do not know the volume you are speaking at, resulting in talking too loudly.
- Having negative emotions: Loss of hearing leads to a fewer interpersonal interactions, which may develop into frustration or loneliness.
- Getting tired when hearing others: Hearing loss affects cognition, and having to put effort into understanding sentences makes you feel tired way more easily.
- Unable to enjoy music: Music has a wide range of frequencies, so a lack of cognitive ability to distinguish frequencies due to hearing loss makes music sound bland.
- Missing information during phone calls: Phone lines have a limited frequency range and poor sound quality, so the utterances are sometimes unclear, making it even more challenging for people with hearing loss to catch what is said in a call.
- Struggling to hear consonants: Some consonants may be challenging to hear, such as the [f] sound in ‘rough’ or [s] sound in ‘caster’.
Can You Hear These Consonants?
If you are interested in testing your ability to hear consonants, we have prepared a quick test for you to try if you can correctly hear the first consonants of these three words.
We suggest you set your device volume to 50% of the maximum, and recommend wearing headphones, if available.
See answer key.
See answer key.
See answer key.
What Should I Do if I Have One or More Symptoms of Hearing Loss?
If you notice signs of hearing loss, you should always seek a medical professional for a full evaluation of your hearing ability to identify the situation and causes and to find the type and degree of hearing loss.
Don’t be anxious if it turns out you have hearing loss, as there are ways to treat hearing loss. It is important to treat hearing loss as early as possible, as untreated hearing loss worsens over time and causes other issues.
With that said, it is worth learning about the different types and degrees of hearing loss.
It Might Not Be Permanent Hearing Loss: Other Hearing Conditions with Similar Symptoms
Temporary Hearing Loss
Experiencing symptoms of hearing loss does not guarantee that you have permanent hearing loss. Sometimes, hearing loss is temporary, or the symptoms have unrelated causes.
Temporary hearing loss is generally caused by blockage of canals by earwax, extremely loud noises, ear infections, and medicine aftereffects. It does slightly reduce hearing but there is no damage to our ears or nerves, and it is treatable. However, temporary hearing loss due to infection could eventually develop into permanent hearing loss.
In addition, research findings show that our hearing is reduced when we concentrate on seeing. Since our brain is not capable of focusing on multiple things simultaneously, concentrating on senses like sight would decrease our ability to hear, resulting in a seeming hearing loss.
Understanding Hearing Loss
Besides the signs, it is also crucial to study the different types and degrees of hearing loss. There are mainly three types of hearing loss: Conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss means that sound cannot travel through the ear canals in the outer ear or vibration cannot be conducted to the ear bones in the middle ear. This is usually due to the accumulation of earwax or abnormal bone growth (Otosclerosis).
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is due to damage to the auditory nerve in the inner ear. The damage leads to no or weaker signals being sent to the brain after stimuli to sound, resulting in impaired hearing. Aging and long exposure to loud noise like construction noise are the common causes of sensorineural hearing loss.
Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss is a mix of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. It is caused by damage to both the inner ear and the outer ear, and aging is another common cause.
The Four Degrees of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss may sound worrying, but there are different severity. There are four degrees of hearing loss: mild, moderate, severe, and profound hearing loss.
Each degree represents different severity measured by decibels of hearing level (dB HL). A higher value of decibels (dB HL) corresponds to more severe hearing loss. In other words, the higher value means the person is less sensitive to sound. The decibel ranges of each degree are as follows:
- Mild: 26-40 dB HL
- Moderate: 41-60 dB HL
- Severe: 61-80 dB HL
- Profound: 81 dB HL or higher
While hearing loss is measurable, signs of these degrees of hearing loss can better demonstrate the situation and its severity. Luckily, they are observable in our daily lives.
Mild Hearing Loss (26-40 dB HL)
As a reference point, whispering produces sound at approximately 20 dB, meaning that a person with mild hearing loss cannot hear it.
Most people with mild hearing loss can hear well in a one-on-one conversation, but when the environment becomes noisy, or if the speaker stands a bit further away, they may not be able to catch every word.
Moderate Hearing Loss (41-60 dB HL)
Light rain produces sound at around 40 dB, so moderate hearing loss patients cannot pick up the rain sound.
People with moderate hearing loss may struggle to hear speech in conversations and often have to ask the speaker to repeat themselves. That is because they have issues hearing consonants and vowels, so interpreting becomes difficult.
Severe Hearing Loss (61-80 dB HL)
The sound of an air-conditioner is about 60 dB.
A conversation at a normal volume (also around 60 dB) tends to be inaudible to someone with severe hearing loss. Only when the speaker talks very loudly should they expect a response.
Profound Hearing Loss (81 dB HL or higher)
A truck driving by produces sound at around 80 dB. Someone with profound hearing loss is likely unable to hear such loud noise.
Profound hearing loss is very close to being deaf. A patient can only hear when the person is shouting next to them. At this point, hearing aids or cochlear implants are necessary for hearing speech.
What Does Hearing Loss Sound Like?
You can try the Hearing Loss Simulator if you are curious about how these degrees of hearing loss sound.
Summary: Do you Have Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is no longer a rare condition, especially for the elderly. With numerous researches, it has been found that aging leads to hearing degeneration. Common signs of hearing loss include asking someone to repeat themselves, increasing volume, others complaining you are speaking loudly, having negative emotions, getting tired when hearing others, being unable to enjoy music, and missing information during phone calls. Some people think they can hear well, but there are still possibilities that they may have less severe hearing loss without being aware of it. Nonetheless, hearing loss should be treated properly, and those with hearing problems should seek hearing consultations as soon as possible.