Understanding Your Hearing

Common Signs of Hearing Loss:

  • Feeling like everyone mumbles
  • Hearing well in private settings, but not in groups
  • Playing the TV or radio louder than others prefer
  • Becoming sensitive to increases in volume
  • Experiencing ringing in the ears
  • Missing parts of conversations

If you are interested in getting a baseline hearing test or learning about your hearing loss, contact Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center today to schedule a comprehensive hearing test. HSDC serves the Western Washington area through offices in Seattle, Tacoma, and Bellingham.

“I stopped doing the things that I loved most … listening to music, watching TV, going on social outings. I had become a recluse, given up on life, and attributed it to being severely depressed.

Since getting my hearing aids, I find a great satisfaction in going out for coffee with my friends, listening to music and watching TV has become pleasurable, when I am not going to concerts or the Japanese garden to hear the babbling brooks and birds singing. How can I thank you enough for giving me my life back? There really are no adequate words. You truly are a miracle worker. Thank you so very, very much.”—Meagan, Audiology client

Understanding Your Hearing Test and Audiogram

What does a hearing test mean? Hearing is not measured in percentages, but in an arbitrary unit of loudness called a decibel (dB). This image shows where many common conversational and environmental sounds occur on a typical audiogram graph:

Audiogram example

Deep pitch sounds like lawnmowers and big dogs are indicated on the left side of the graph and high pitch sounds like telephone rings and fans are indicated on the right side of the graph.

Quieter sounds like whispers and birds are higher up on the graph and louder sounds like construction equipment are toward the bottom.

Types of Hearing Loss

  • Conductive Hearing Loss is caused by a problem in the outer or middle ear. It affects lower frequencies and makes it difficult to hear vowel sounds and interpret the slight differences among them. If the sound is loud enough, a person with this type of hearing loss can hear and understand clearly, making them a good candidate for hearing aids.
  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss is the most common type of hearing loss and is cause by damage to the inner ear and/or the auditory nerve. Noise exposure, diseases, certain medications, and aging can destroy parts of the inner ear and cause permanent hearing loss. If a sound is loud enough, a person with inner ear damage may hear something, however it may be distorted. Sensorineural hearing loss is characterized by a lower tolerance for loud sounds, and has the greatest affect on high frequencies.
  • Mixed Hearing Loss is the presence of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss in the same individual.
  • Retro-Cochlear Hearing Loss is a sensorineural hearing loss, particularly in one ear, where the problem lies beyond the inner ear, perhaps even in the brain stem. An acoustic tumor may be involved, and may lie on the auditory nerve, brainstem, or brain. Retro-cochlear hearing loss is noted by inconsistencies on the audiogram.

Psychological Impact of Hearing Loss

Untreated hearing loss can impact every area of your life. Studies have shown that individuals with hearing loss who do not acknowledge it and treat it with assistive technology or other communication strategies are prone to isolation, reduced social activity, increases in worry and anxiety levels, sadness, and depression. Untreated hearing loss is a serious and prevalent problem. Denial is the greatest barrier to hearing aid use. Many hard of hearing individuals who don’t wear hearing aids believe they don’t need them or can get by without them. Cost considerations and vanity are also barriers for many.

Impact on Family and Friends

Hearing loss affects the whole family. Communication is a key part of maintaining healthy relationships, and stressful or unsuccessful communication can result in a person with hearing loss withdrawing socially. Families should be aware of the potential consequences of untreated hearing loss, as well as the benefits of hearing aids and other options. If you suspect a relative has a hearing loss, encourage them to get an evaluation.

Benefits of Treatment

Individuals whose hearing loss is treated show significant improvements in the quality of their lives. With hearing aids, they enjoy improvements in the relationships at home and work, with children and grandchildren, and in their confidence, independence, and life outlook. They are more involved socially and in their communities, and report feeling greater security and positive mental health. Family members tend to observe all of these benefits to an even greater degree.