What Is Mild Hearing Loss?

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

Mild hearing loss can be easy to miss and the process is often gradual and painless. It 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?

When you have a mild hearing loss, it may feel as though your ears are plugged or that people are mumbling. If someone is close enough, you typically won't have any trouble understanding them.

However, if someone is farther away or if there is a lot of background noise, you may not be able to understand.

Certain sounds in speech like /f/, /s/, /th/, and /k/ are softer than others and can be harder to hear than stronger sounds. This means that you might be able to hear speech that's loud enough, but it may seem unclear. Plus, weak voices are more difficult to understand.

All of 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." Yet, they are truly hearing impaired and some situations are easier to hear in than others. At times, this may give the appearance of inattention.

If you have a mild hearing loss, you will find yourself listening more carefully. You might even expend more energy and effort in understanding what is said, which can lead to fatigue

Children With Mild Hearing Loss

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

Also, children need a louder speech sound than an adult if there is background noise.

In a classroom situation, hearing well can be particularly difficult. Depending on the noise level and the distance of the teacher, a student with mild hearing loss can miss 25 to 40 percent of speech and half of the classroom discussions.

How Is Mild Hearing Loss Treated?

Even people with mild hearing loss may benefit from hearing aids. Not only will this help in day-to-day clarity, but it can also decrease fatigue from listening and the need to 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. 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 ​the limited perceived benefits.

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. For instance, you can try to avoid talking to a person with hearing loss from another room or with your back turned.

As someone with a hearing loss, you can ask people to speak clearly, slow down their rate of speech, or ask them to repeat or clarify if you don't understand what is said.

Many people also find new ways to position themselves in noisy situations.

All levels of hearing loss impact the person as well as those 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. Relationship of Longterm Degree of Hearing Loss to Psychosocial Impact and Educational Needs. 2007.

Moller K, Jespersen C. What Are Some Common Misconceptions About Hearing Loss? Audiology Online. 2013.

Resnick S, et al. Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss. John Hopkins Medicine. 2014.

Updated by Melissa Karp, Au.D.

Continue Reading