While you have heard the terms moderate or severe hearing loss thrown around, you may not understand what they are referring to. Below is a breakdown of how sound is measured and what categories your audiologist will use to classify your specific type and degree of hearing loss.

How Is Sound Measured?Man receiving a hearing test through headphones, sitting in a booth, looking at a female audiologist through a window.

Sound can be measured by volume and pitch.

Volume refers to how loud a sound is and relates to the soundwave’s intensity, or how much energy the wave has. Measured in decibels (dB), the quietest noise we can hear is around 10 dB, and sounds around 130 dB are considered painful. Below is a list from the CDC of everyday sounds and their average decibel measurement:

  • Normal breathing – 10 dB
  • Ticking watch – 20 dB
  • Soft whisper – 30 dB
  • Refrigerator hum – 40 dB
  • Normal conversation – 60 dB
  • Washing machine – 70 dB
  • City traffic – 80 dB
  • Gas powered lawnmower – 85 dB
  • Motorcycle – 95 dB
  • Sporting event – 100 dB
  • Maximum volume of a personal listening device – 110 dB
  • Standing near a siren – 120 dB
  • Firecrackers – 140-150 dB

Sounds under 85 dB are considered safe. Anything above that can begin to cause irreversible damage to the hair cells in your inner ear, leading to hearing loss.

Pitch measures frequency, or how many times a wavelength vibrates. High-frequency sounds have waves very close together while low-frequency sounds have a greater distance between waves.

Frequency is measured in hertz (Hz) and records the number of pressure waves per second. Humans with normal hearing can hear sounds between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz.

How Is Hearing Loss Measured?

Hearing loss can be broken down into two measurements:

  • How loud something must be for you to hear it
  • Which frequencies are hard for you to hear

Degrees of Hearing Loss

There are five distinct degrees of hearing loss.

Slight Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss means you cannot hear sounds softer than 15-20 dB, such as a whisper. While this degree of hearing loss is below the point your audiologist would diagnose you, it can still make listening to speech difficult.

Mild Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss allows you to continue one-on-one conversations, but makes it more difficult to understand speech when there is a lot of background noise. Mild hearing loss means you cannot hear sounds measuring 26-40 dB.

Moderate Hearing Loss

Those with this degree of hearing loss often have to ask people to repeat themselves, especially during in-person conversations or over the phone. Moderate hearing loss means you cannot hear sounds lower than 40-69 dB. Hearing aids can effectively treat this degree of hearing loss.

Severe Hearing Loss

If you have this degree of hearing loss, you will not be able to hear people speaking without the use of a hearing aid or other amplification device. Those with this degree cannot hear sounds lower than 70-94 dB.

Profound Hearing Loss

Those with this degree of hearing loss cannot hear even extremely loud sounds and require a hearing aid or cochlear implant. Many with this degree of hearing loss will rely on sign language to communicate, as they cannot hear sounds lower than 95 dB.

To learn more about your type and degree of hearing loss, contact the experts at Bountiful Hearing Center.