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    For 37 million Americans, the world is a very quiet place. Hearing loss can make conversations fade into whispers and music a faint hum.

    The key is to see your doctor as soon as you notice you’re having trouble hearing. The earlier you get a diagnosis and treatment, the more you can stay involved in the world around you.

    Symptoms of Hearing Loss

    If you lose hearing, either suddenly or over time, you'll have trouble making out details of conversations. Sounds will become muffled and gradually fade.

    Depending on the cause of your hearing loss, you might also have:

    • Pain in one or both ears
    • Dizziness or vertigo
    • Ringing in the ears, called tinnitus
    • Pressure or fullness in one or both ears

    Often, people with severe hearing loss withdraw from their social lives because they're embarrassed to ask family and friends to repeat themselves over and over again. They might be afraid they'll misunderstand a conversation and answer with wrong or embarrassing comments.

    Degrees of Hearing Impairment

    To find out how impaired your hearing is, your doctor may order a formal hearing test also known as an audiogram. It can show the degree of your hearing loss by looking at the range of decibels -- a measure of sound intensity -- you can hear.

    Normal hearing is in the range of 0 to 25 decibels. People with normal hearing are able to make out sounds as faint as human breathing, which measures about 10 decibels. Mild hearing loss ranges from 26 to 40 decibels, and moderate hearing loss from 41 to 55 decibels. Moderately severe hearing loss ranges from 56 to 70 decibels, and severe hearing loss is in the range of 71 to 90 decibels. Profound hearing loss is greater than 90 decibels. People will have trouble hearing speech, although they can make out loud sounds like a truck that backfires or an airplane taking off.

    Types of Hearing Loss

    There are three main types of hearing loss:

    Conductive hearing loss happens because of a problem in the ear canal, eardrum, or the middle ear that prevents sound from carrying well to the inner ear. An ear infection, trauma, a tumor, or fluid or an object  in the ear (such as wax buildup) can cause it.

    Are you having trouble hearing?