Four Degrees of Hearing Loss, Part 1: Navigating Mild Hearing Loss in a Hearing World

Affects of Mild Hearing Loss

Mild hearing loss affects about 25 million people in the United States (source), and is the least debilitating of the four degrees of hearing loss – the others being moderate, severe, and profound. Hearing loss is usually categorized in terms of decibel receptivity. A person who cannot hear sounds of 25 decibels (as loud as whispering or rustling leaves) to 40 decibels (quiet ambient noise in a library or urban environment) may identify as having mild hearing loss.

Erwan’s Experience with His Hearing Loss

Until his recent (mild hearing loss) diagnosis from an ENT specialist, Erwan, 28, thought that his difficulty in noisy crowds, his loud speaking voice, and his slight reliance on lip-reading were typical experiences. Getting hearing aids made a fast difference in how he adapted to situations where hearing might be an issue. “I must have had this [hearing loss] since I was a kid without realizing it,” Erwan, 28, says. “I’ve always been able to adapt and deal with it.” Receiving his first pair of Phonak hearing aids in March 2021 helped Erwan rediscover small sounds, like the bass in a song or the boiling of a pot of water. For Erwan, getting hearing aids was “one of the best things to happen to me this year!”

Jordan’s Experience with Her Hearing Loss

Meanwhile, Jordan, 30, has been wearing hearing aids for the past four years. As a professional with mild-moderate sensorineural hearing loss, she often needs to make careful decisions on how best to navigate in a certain situation. Is there a place she can stand in a crowded room where the surrounding conversations will be least overwhelming? Will she be able to wear behind-the-ear hearing aids, glasses, and a mask all at the same time, or is it better to pick the invisible-in-canal aids of a slightly lower quality?

Although Jordan greatly benefits from hearing aids, she wants people to know that the common parallel between glasses and hearing aids isn’t completely accurate. A pair of glasses will clarify a blurry object, but hearing aids are meant to amplify, not clarify; a mumble will just become a somewhat louder mumble. In addition, quiet noises brought to focus by hearing aids can quickly become exhausting or overstimulating. “No matter which way I slice it, wear my aids or don’t, I end up cognitively more tired than I used to after social interactions,” Jordan says.

Complications They Both Faced

For both Erwan and Jordan, the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the difficulty of navigating conversations without the ability to lipread, and neither of them were aware of the extent they relied on it until people’s faces were covered with masks. Still, even before realizing their hearing loss, they have been able to adapt and cope in a hearing world.

Questions

Do you have questions about the benefits of hearing aids, or are you wondering about how to deal with masks in a post-COVID world? Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page for quick answers, or reach out on our community Facebook page for resources and advice.

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