How Bad Is My Hearing Loss?

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on May 28, 2023
3 min read

If someone has ever asked you to repeat yourself at a crowded restaurant, but that person can hear you just fine during the quiet car ride home, you know that hearing loss can affect people in different ways.

There’s a wide spectrum that spans the distance between normal hearing and profound hearing loss, with many sounds that people may or may not be able to hear along the way.

Sounds are measured in units called decibels. The more sounds that you can’t hear at a certain decibel level, the greater your hearing loss is. The different degrees are broken down as follows:

Most adults have normal hearing. If you do, this means that you can hear the things that you’d expect to hear, like your friends talking to you, as well as quiet sounds, like someone whispering to you from a few feet away.

With normal hearing, you can hear these sounds, which people with any degree of hearing loss can’t hear:

  • People breathing
  • Mosquitoes buzzing
  • Leaves rustling in the wind

Some people who have mild hearing loss may not know that they have a problem. They can still hear most of what they heard when they had normal hearing, and they’re able to hear many sounds if they get closer to the source or raise the volume.

If you have mild hearing loss, you won’t be able to hear:

  • People whispering
  • Refrigerators humming
  • Water babbling in a brook or stream

Read more about how hearing aids for mild hearing loss works.

At this level of hearing loss, you may miss out on some of the sounds that you’ve heard before. If you pay attention, you’ll only hear silence at times when you used to hear soft sounds.

If you have moderate hearing loss, you won’t be able to hear:

  • People working in a quiet office
  • Rain falling
  • Coffee brewing in a percolator

Some people with moderate to severe hearing loss have trouble hearing their friends and family, which can make it hard for them to feel like they’re a part of things at social events, which can be depressing.

If you have moderate to severe hearing loss, you won’t be able to hear:

  • People talking at a normal volume
  • A dishwasher running
  • People laughing

Those with severe hearing loss miss out on the things in their lives that they would want to hear, like the laughter of their friends or grandkids. They’re likely to raise the volume on the TV to a level that will bother others in the room, just so that they can hear their shows.

If you have severe hearing loss, you won’t be able to hear:

  • Doorbells or telephones ringing
  • Traffic noises
  • The sound of a vacuum cleaner

Read more about how hearing aids for severe hearing loss work.

People with this level of hearing loss spend most of their day in silence when the world around them is bursting with normal-volume sounds. They may still be able to hear extreme booms and other loud sounds, like thunder and fireworks.

If you have profound hearing loss, you won’t be able to hear:

  • Someone shouting at you
  • A running lawnmower
  • Motorcycles riding by

If you think that you have hearing loss, ask your doctor to check your hearing. You may need to see an ear-nose-throat doctor or a special hearing doctor called an audiologist to help with treatment if test results show that you do have hearing loss.

There are many options to help you hear more sounds in your world again and to prevent future hearing loss, such as:

  • Hearing aids
  • Ear plugs to protect your hearing
  • Special services for people with hearing loss offered at theaters, ballgames and houses of worship
  • Cochlear implants (for severe and profound hearing loss or a poor ability to understand spoken words)