Your hearing loss explained

Based on the results of your recent hearing tests, your audiologist or hearing aid dispenser will be able to describe your hearing loss in various ways. As well as the type of loss (for a reminder, click opens a new windowhere), degree and ‘shape’ are important descriptors too.


Degree of hearing loss

The degree or severity of hearing loss for different tones is measured in decibels (dB) on an opens a new windowaudiometer. opens a new windowClick here to read more about decibels.

The quietest sound a particular person can hear compared to the standardised figure for an average young person is called their hearing threshold. Degrees of hearing loss are typically classified as:

Normal range (no hearing loss) – A hearing threshold of up to 20 dB

Mild hearing loss – A hearing threshold of 25 dB to 39 dB

Moderate hearing loss – A hearing threshold of 40 dB to 69 dB

Severe hearing loss – A hearing threshold of 70 dB to 94 dB

Profound hearing loss – A hearing threshold of 95dB or more

The level of a person’s hearing threshold may vary greatly depending on the frequency (pitch) being measured.


‘Shape’ of hearing loss

Every hearing loss can be thought of as having ‘shape’. This refers to the overall nature of the hearing loss, including its extent at each frequency. To illustrate the point – a hearing loss that only affects a person’s ability to hear high tones would be described as a high-frequency loss. Its ‘shape’ would show good hearing in the low frequencies but poor hearing in the high frequencies. Conversely, for a low frequency hearing loss, the ‘shape’ would show poorer hearing at low frequencies but better hearing for high frequencies. Some hearing losses are said to be ‘flat’ – meaning that the amount of hearing loss for low and high frequencies is similar.

Many people with sensorineural hearing loss hear very loud sounds almost normally, yet are unable to hear quiet sounds. This phenomenom is known as loudness recruitment and is characteristic of this type of hearing loss. Modern hearing aids can be programmed to help compensate for this effect.


Other terms used to describe a hearing loss

As well as the terms above, here are some other ways in which hearing loss may be described:

  • Bilateral (hearing loss in both ears) / Unilateral (hearing loss in one ear only)

  • Symmetrical (similar degree of hearing loss in both ears) / Asymmetrical (different degree of hearing loss in both ears).

  • Progressive (a hearing loss that increases steadily over time) / Sudden (a hearing loss that occurs rapidly).


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