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For 37 million Americans, the world is a very quiet place. Conversations have faded into whispers. Music has become nothing more than a faint hum.

Anyone who deals with severe hearing loss knows how alone it can make you feel. When you can't hear, you can't take part in conversations. You struggle to stay involved in the world around you.

Timely diagnosis and management of severe hearing loss can improve your quality of life, though. So as soon as you notice symptoms, see your doctor.

Symptoms of Severe 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, vertigo
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Pressure or fullness in one or both ears

Often, people with severe hearing loss withdraw socially, because they're embarrassed to ask family and friends to repeat themselves over and over again. People with hearing loss also withdraw because they're afraid they'll misunderstand the conversation and answer with wrong or embarrassing comments.

Degrees of Hearing Impairment

Your health care provider may order a formal hearing test also known as an audiogram. Doctors determine the degree of hearing loss by looking at the range of decibels (dB) -- a measure of sound intensity -- you can hear. People with perfect hearing can hear sounds of all different intensities. People with severe hearing loss can pick up only very loud sounds.

Normal hearing is considered to be in the range of 0 to 25 dB, which is the softest intensity where sound is heard. People with normal hearing are able to make out sounds as faint as human breathing, which measures about 10 dB. Mild hearing loss is in the range of 26 to 40 dB, and moderate hearing loss ranges from 41 to 55 dB. Severe hearing loss is considered to be in the range of 71 – 90 dB. People with severe hearing loss have trouble hearing speech, although they can make out loud sounds, like a truck that backfires or an airplane taking off.