What is mild hearing loss?

December 23, 2014 by Martin Fortin

Perte auditive

Slight to mild hearing loss can be defined as a hearing level that falls between 16 and 40 dB at each audiometric frequency on the audiogram. Although referred to mild, this level of loss can cause significant hearing difficulties that can vary depending on the frequencies affected, the individual’s environment and his or her hearing and communication needs.

In terms of speech perception, amplification comes from the mid/low frequencies, while clarity is associated with high frequencies. In speech, vowels are stronger than consonants, but consonants are essential to understanding messages. Consonants are therefore produced at high frequencies.

For example, it is difficult and even impossible to understand the word “potato” without its consonants (“_o_a_o”) while it can quite easily be understood without its vowels (“p_t_t_”).

As such, low- to mid-frequency hearing loss is noticed immediately because there is a loss of volume, though speech intelligibility is only slightly affected. However, using a child with otitis as an example (a condition that affects the lower frequencies), this type of hearing loss has harmful consequences on learning because the child does not yet have a sound enough knowledge of language.

Still, mild hearing loss that occurs in the high frequency range is far more insidious, since the individual has the impression he or she hears quite well. With this type of hearing loss, people hear well but have trouble understanding what is being said. It is often others around them who point out, for example, that the television is too loud or that they frequently ask people to repeat themselves in noisy or group settings. When those affected realize they can no longer follow conversation to the same degree as others, they begin to isolate themselves and withdraw from activities they enjoy. Misunderstandings can occur more often, sparking family tensions. Intimate conversations can become difficult and even impossible.

To conclude, once behaviour associated with hearing loss is observed, a full assessment should be scheduled to prevent it from negatively impacting the individual’s quality of life. If you suspect a friend or family member of undergoing hearing loss, do not hesitate to suggest a visit to an audiologist.