What is mild hearing loss?Mild hearing loss is defined by being unable to hear sounds that are quieter than about 25 decibels (dB) for adults and 15 dB for children. This includes sounds like whispered conversations, dripping water, leaves rustling, feet shuffling on floors/carpets, and birds chirping. You may struggle with hearing both low-pitched and high-pitched sounds (known as frequency) in that sound range, though most people stop hearing high-frequency pitches first. Although it seems innocent enough, even a case of mild hearing loss can lead to other medical issues and should be addressed immediately.Degrees of hearing loss include normal, mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe and profound. These ranges are identified on an audiogram, one of the tests you’ll undergo as part of a hearing evaluation. An adult’s normal hearing range is between 0-25 dB across the frequency range. Normal hearing for children is between 0-15 dB.
How does mild hearing loss affect communication?People with mild hearing loss often say they hear well in quiet environments when talking one-on-one with someone; however, not so well when they are in noisy environments, nor when a person is facing away or is standing some distance away from them. People with mild hearing loss often report that they can hear but can’t understand conversations clearly.
What causes mild hearing loss?The most common reasons people develop mild hearing loss are noise exposure and aging.But there are many other reasons you might receive a diagnosis of mild hearing loss. Some of them, when diagnosed and treated promptly, may result in restored hearing. For example:
- An excess of cerumen (earwax). If you suspect earwax is the culprit, try using an over-the-counter solution such as Debrox or Odinell, which is available at most major drugstores. If this doesn’t resolve the situation, the buildup may be impacted and require removal by a physician.
- Ear infection. Although children have a greater incidence of ear infections, they can still occur as an adult. If you experience an earache, especially one accompanied by a discharge and fever, see a medical professional immediately.
- Bone abnormalities in the middle ear. If the small bones of the middle ear aren’t doing their job properly, your inner ear won’t receive the signals it needs to transmit sound to the brain.
- Other medical conditions such as Meniere’s disease, acoustic neuromas and head trauma can cause hearing loss.
- Birth defects, which may include hereditary issues or infections the mother contracted during pregnancy
- Genetic factors such as otosclerosis, Usher’s Syndrome and Penrod Syndrome.
Can you prevent mild hearing loss?The most preventable type of hearing loss is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), a condition which affects nearly 32 million Americans. It affects an estimated 12.5% of children and teens between and 17% of adults age 20-69 years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many types of hearing protective devices are available to help you keep your hearing safe from NIHL:
- Foam earplugs, available at most drug stores, are ideal for basic noise prevention.
- In-ear monitors, custom-made devices for musicians to protect hearing and control the amount of sound they hear for each instrument and person in the band.
- Filtered earplugs, great for music lovers who want to enjoy a concert without affecting the fidelity of sound
- Percussive filters, custom molded for hunters to block out the loud sound of the gun blast yet still allow normal conversation to filter through. The only other preventative measure one can take is to seek medical treatment right away whenever they notice a change of hearing. Whether it is treatment for an ear infection or something more serious like a viral infection or autoimmune attack on the inner ear, it is important not to delay making an appointment to see a physician. Earlier treatment yields better outcomes.