Hearing Loss

Significant hearing loss affects patients of all ages. With nearly 20 doctoral level audiologists at multiple locations, the Henry Ford Division of Audiology is dedicated to helping people with hearing loss improve their quality of life.

Types of hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not conducted efficiently through the outer ear canal to the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss usually involves a reduction in sound level, or the volume of sounds. This type of hearing loss can often be medically or surgically corrected.

Examples of conditions that may cause a conductive hearing loss include:

  • Absence or malformation of the outer or middle ear
  • Fluid in the middle ear from colds, allergies, poor eustachian tube function, ear infection (otitis media), perforated eardrum or benign tumors
  • Impacted earwax
  • Infection in the ear canal (external otitis)
  • Presence of a foreign body

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss addressed by the use of hearing aids. It involves not necessarily a reduction in the volume of sound, but a reduction in the ability to hear higher pitched sounds, including consonants in speech. It also affects speech understanding, specifically the ability to hear clearly.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Typically, it cannot be medically or surgically corrected.

Possible causes of sensorineural hearing loss include:

  • Aging
  • Diseases
  • Drugs that are toxic to the auditory system
  • Genetic syndromes
  • Head Trauma
  • Noise exposure
  • Problems at birth
  • Tumors
  • Viruses

For a sample of what life is like with sensorineural hearing loss, check out Henry Ford’s Hearing Loss Simulator.

Degree of hearing loss

Sound levels are measured in decibels (dB). Decibels are like the degrees of a thermometer. As temperature increases, so does the number of degrees. As the volume of sound increases, so does the number of decibels.

Degree of hearing loss refers to the severity of the loss. The levels correspond to the patient's thresholds, or the softest intensity at which a sound is perceived.

  • Normal Hearing (0-15 dB)
  • Minimal Hearing Loss (16-24 dB)
  • Mild Hearing Loss (25-40 dB)
  • Moderate Hearing Loss (41-55 dB)
  • Moderately-Severe Hearing Loss (56-69 dB)
  • Severe Hearing Loss (70-89 dB)
  • Profound Hearing Loss (90+ dB)

Examples of decibel levels in everyday life

Sound Noise level (dB)  Effect
Jet Engines 140 Threshold of pain usually begins around 125dB
Shotgun Firing 130
Same as above.
Rock Concerts 120 Same as above.
Thunderclap 120
Power Saw 110
Same as above.
Jackhammer 110
Same as above.
Snowmobile 105 Same as above.
Garbage Truck/Cement Mixer 100 No more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure recommended for sounds between 90-100 dB.   85 dB is the level at which hearing damage begins after 8 hours of continuous exposure, Comfortable hearing levels are under 60 dB.  
Farm Tractor 98 Same as above. 
Motorcycle 88 Same as above. 
Lawnmower 85-90 Same as above.  
Diesel Truck 84 85dB is the level at which hearing damage begins after 8 hours of continuous exposure. Comfortable hearing levels are under 60 dB.
Average City Traffic 80
Same as above.
Washing Machine 78
Same as above. 
Hair Dryer/Vacuum Cleaner 70
Same as above. 
Normal Conversation 50-65
Same as above.  
Refrigerator Humming   40 Just Audible.
Whisper 30
Same as above.
Rustling Leaves   20
Same as above.
Normal Breathing   10
Same as above. 
Source: National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
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