Mild Hearing Loss

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Familiar sounds audiogram - even a mild hearing loss will impact speech sounds..

What Is a Mild Hearing Loss?

A mild hearing loss is typically classified as a hearing loss of 26 to 45 decibels on the audiogram. It may be conductive, sensorineural, or mixed. 

What are the Effects of Mild Hearing Loss?

Mild hearing loss is easily missed. Hearing loss is often a gradual and painless process. It may seem as though your ears feel plugged or that people are mumbling. If someone is close enough to a person with mild hearing loss, you usually won't have any trouble understanding.

However, if someone is farther away or the background environment is noisy, you may not be able to understand. This is because certain sounds of speech are softer than others. Examples of these sounds are /f/, /s/, /th/, and /k/. Other speech sounds are stronger. This leads to hearing speech loud enough but the speech seems unclear. Plus, weak voices are difficult for people with mild hearing losses to understand. This can affect interpersonal relationships, social interactions, and even careers. A person with mild hearing loss is often told, "You can hear when you want to hear." A person with mild hearing loss is truly hearing impaired, but some situations are easier to hear giving the appearance of inattention. People with mild hearing loss need to listen more carefully and expend more energy and effort in understanding what is said. This often leads to fatigue

Children with mild hearing loss have more difficulties than adults because they don't have a large vocabulary and experience to draw on.

Children need a louder speech sound if there is background noise than an adult does. In a classroom situation, hearing well can be particularly difficult. Depending on the noise level of the classroom and the distance of the teacher, a student with mild hearing loss can miss 25-40% of speech and 50% of class discussions.

 

How is Mild Hearing Loss Treated?

Even people with mild hearing loss may benefit from hearing aids. Not only will they help in day to day clarity, but can decrease fatigue from listening and keep stimulating the auditory pathways of the brain. Untreated hearing loss is considered a risk factor for brain atrophy and cognitive decline. Studies are underway to prove that using hearing aids to treat hearing loss will prevent this atrophy, but in the interim, we certainly know that using hearing aids will not hurt and may even help with this issue. 

Historically, many people with mild losses will not bother to get hearing aids. Reasons range from cost, the stigma associated with wearing hearing aids, and limited perceived benefit.

There are also other means of compensating for a mild hearing loss, such as better seating or the use of assistive listening devices. Good communication strategies can be taught and are often helpful (such as not trying to talk to a person with hearing loss from another room or with your back turned, how to find the best way to position yourself in noisy situations, speaking clearly, or slowing down the rate of speech, and asking for clarification or repetition if you don't understand what is said).

 

All hearing loss, even mild hearing loss, impacts not only the person with hearing loss but all the people they come into contact with. While it is called "mild" hearing loss, the impact on communication is anything but mild. 

Sources:

Anderson K, Matkin N (2007). Relationship of Longterm Degree of Hearing Loss to Psychosocial Impact and Educational Needs. Retrieved 2/27/2016 from http://www.janemadell.com/publications/Anderson.pdf

Moller K. Jespersen C. (2013) What Are Some Common Misconceptions About Hearing Loss? Audiology Online. Retrieved 2/28/2016 from http://www.audiologyonline.com/ask-the-experts/what-some-common-misconceptions-mild-12268

Updated by Melissa Karp, Au.D.

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