Between “hearing well” and “hearing nothing” lies a wide range of different types of hearing loss. Experts distinguish between mild, moderate, severe and profound hearing loss.
The sound of speech
Human speech consists of vowels and consonants at different loudness and frequency levels. They are shaded on this audiogram as a so-called “speech banana”. Comparing hearing thresholds to the "speech banana" is an easy way to check whether the entire spectrum of speech is still audible. Click here to listen to what hearing loss sounds like at the Phonak website (a new window will open).
Hearing is measured in decibels (dB) at the softest point where you can hear each tone. The categories of hearing loss correspond to decibel levels. As a point of reference, normal conversation occurs at about 55-60dB. A whisper occurs at about 35dB.
Normal hearing (0 – 25dB)
You can hear well in most situations.
Mild hearing loss (26 - 40dB)
You hear reasonably well in quiet one-on-one situations but you miss some soft sounds and have trouble in group or noisy situations.
Moderate hearing loss (41 - 60dB)
You probably miss a lot of speech and have trouble hearing on the phone. If you can turn it up (like the TV), you will. You find yourself asking people to speak up or repeat themselves. Understanding speech when there is background noise is very hard.
Severe hearing loss (61-80dB)
You will not hear most sounds. Understanding conversation will require great effort.
Profound hearing loss (81dB or greater)
Only some very loud sounds are audible. Hearing aids, cochlear implants, sign language (or a combination of those) are needed in order to communicate.
The above image is courtesy of Phonak.