What is “Normal” Hearing and How is it Measured?

When you go to your doctor’s office for a physical, you may be subjected to several tests to determine the quality of your sight, reflexes, hearing, and other senses. Not all of these tests are self-explanatory to you, but your doctor understands them and can interpret the results for you.
Unfortunately, as more veterans file claims as part of the 3M earplug lawsuit, more people are trying to determine whether they have experienced hearing loss due to defective 3M combat earplugs during their military service between 2003 and 2015.

This guide will help you to gain a better grasp of what is considered “normal” hearing and understand better how the quality of a person’s hearing is measured.

Hearing loss basics

Some experts estimate that as many as 11% of United States residents have some form of hearing loss. That’s a little over 1 in every 10 people. Although hearing loss is thought to affect older people, it is also present in newborns, children, teenagers, and adults as well.

Most people with hearing loss will develop it later in life, as opposed to developing it at a younger age. Acquired hearing loss can be caused by a number of different factors, including genetic predisposition, head trauma, ear disease, ototoxic medicines, and the factor most veterans filing claims against 3M are citing noise exposure.

Types of hearing loss

The three primary categories that a case of hearing loss will most likely fall into are the following: Sensorineural hearing loss, conductive hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss can occur when the tiny hairs within the cochlea, or inner ear, become damaged. This form of hearing loss is permanent and is normally treated with hearing aids. The form of sensorineural hearing loss that most people who are aging or have been exposed to great amounts of noise develop is called high-frequency hearing loss, which is very difficult to self-diagnose because it develops so slowly and manifests in the ability to hear, but less clearly than in the past.

Conductive hearing loss can result from a blockage in the ear pathways. It is often due to a blockage of earwax or a foreign object in the air construction pathways of the ear. This can also occur temporarily while the body is fighting off ear infections.

The third most common type of hearing loss is called mixed hearing loss, and, as one might be able to infer, it incorporates elements of both sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss.

“Normal” hearing

Hearing loss is measured in terms of decibels, which are represented in the unit of dB. Audiologists use terms such as normal, mild, moderate, severe, and profound to distinguish in general terms between the degrees of hearing loss.

It is generally agreed that anywhere below a loss amount of 25 dB for adults and 15 dB for children qualifies as normal hearing.

Measuring hearing loss

People who experience mild hearing loss, which for adults is a loss of between 26 dB and 40 dB, may hear quite well in one-on-one conversation but can experience difficulty hearing speech and sounds when the speaker is quiet, or there is a great deal of background noise.

People who experience moderate hearing loss, a loss of between 41 dB and 70 dB, experience difficulty during phone conversations, and often ask people to repeat what they are saying.

Severe hearing loss, between 71 dB and 90 dB, usually requires hearing aids to be able to perceive almost all speech sounds. Using telephones will be especially difficult for them.

People with profound hearing loss, a loss of 91 dB or above, will most definitely need cochlear implants or hearing aids to be able to distinguish any speech sounds.

Final thoughts

Untreated hearing loss can lead to a decreased quality of life. If you or someone you know is struggling with hearing loss, whether or not it is related to the 3M earplug lawsuit, seek out an audiologist to determine the extent of the hearing loss and discuss treatment options.