Understanding Severe-to-Profound Hearing Loss

Degree of hearing loss
Common Cause of hearing loss
Treating hearing loss

Over 30 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, and the causes for it vary from person to person. The majority of people with hearing loss rely on hearing aids to improve their hearing. About 70% of hearing aid wearers have hearing loss in the “mild-to-moderate” range. Many of the remaining 30% have hearing loss that falls into the “severe-to-profound” category.

Measured in degrees, hearing loss is divided into levels that are based on a person's auditory thresholds, or the softest sounds (decibels), they can hear.

Although 90% of hearing loss is successfully treated with hearing aids and amplification, people living with severe-to-profound hearing loss may experience additional challenges.

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Hearing Degree of Loss Impact
Normal Hearing 0 to 25 dB Hearing is considered normal
Mild Hearing Loss 25 to 40 dB Difficulty hearing soft speech in noisy situations
Moderate Hearing Loss 40 to 60 dB Difficulty hearing moderate speech when background noise is present
Severe Hearing Loss 60 to 80 dB Difficulty hearing loud speech, but heard if amplified
Profound Hearing Loss 80 dB or more Difficulty hearing and understanding, even with amplification

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A Common Cause of Mild to Severe-to-Profound Hearing Loss

Hearing well depends on tiny nerves called “hair cells” (because of their shape and appearance), that are found within the cochlea in the inner ear. There are two types of hair cells—inner hair cells and outer hair cells. Inner hair cells sort and transmit various frequencies, or pitches of sound, while outer hair cells enhance the transmission of soft sounds.

Ear anatomy

People living with mild-to-moderate hearing loss have lost their outer hair cells, and have trouble understanding softer speech, such as the voices of women and children.

Severe hearing loss is more complex. With the loss of both inner and outer hair cells, people lose the ability to distinguish sounds of different pitches from one another. This adds an element of distortion to the hearing loss. In fact, a common observation from patients with severe-to-profound hearing loss is that hearing aids make sounds easier to hear, but not always easier to understand.

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Treating Severe-to-Profound Hearing Loss

Trained and licensed hearing care professionals can tell you whether your hearing loss falls into the severe-to-profound category. If so, hearing aids will not totally restore your natural hearing, but can be of great help. Your hearing care professional will interpret the results of your hearing test and work with you to fit a hearing device with the appropriate features. Typically, Behind-the-Ear (BTE) hearing aids are the standard choice for severe-to-profound hearing loss because they supply more power.

Digital hearing aids offer the advantage of sensing the overall acoustic environment, and automatically amplifying the sound in the right way. Additional assistance may be needed for telephone use, and it's common for those with profound hearing loss to also rely upon lip reading and/or sign-language.

If you suspect hearing loss, consult with a licensed hearing care professional to determine which treatment options are best for you.

Learn more about
the warning signs of hearing loss