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Hard of Hearing: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment

By Lan Pham, Kristen Gasnick
Although the term "hard of hearing" generally makes a cultural distinction rather than a medical diagnosis, you might still be wondering about the best treatment options for hearing loss.

Many people use the general term “hard of hearing” to describe someone with hearing loss, but the phrase has specific cultural meanings. Read on to find out more about the term as well as treatment options for hearing loss. 

Hard of Hearing Definition

The phrase "hard of hearing" has specific dimensions within the context of the Deaf community. According to the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), "How people 'label' or identify themselves is personal and may reflect identification with the deaf and hard of hearing community, the degree to which they can hear, or the relative age of onset."

The NAD notes that the Deaf (with a capital "D") community has a distinct culture in which American Sign Language (ASL) plays a major role. According to the 1988 book Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture, "The members of this group have inherited their sign language, use it as a primary means of communication among themselves, and hold a set of beliefs about themselves and their connection to the larger society."

"We distinguish them from, for example, those who find themselves losing their hearing because of illness, trauma or age; although these people share the condition of not hearing, they do not have access to the knowledge, beliefs, and practices that make up the culture of Deaf people," the excerpt continues. 

The terms "Deaf" and "hard of hearing" therefore have certain cultural distinctions. While "Deaf" refers to a distinct culture and identity, the phrase "hard of hearing" has different uses. 

In general, the term "hard of hearing" is used as a self-descriptor by people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss, according to the NAD. The term can also be adopted by a person who is technically deaf, but does not want to assert a cultural affiliation with the Deaf community—although it is also occasionally used by people who have cultural ties to both the Deaf community and hearing communities. 

“The term 'hard of hearing' is actually not a medical diagnosis but rather a way to describe someone who is having difficulty with their hearing,” Rhee Rosenman-Nesson, AuD, founder of Hearing Doctors of New Jersey, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“Someone who is struggling to hear may call themselves ‘hard of hearing’, however, a true medical diagnosis involves a comprehensive hearing test where a degree of loss and type of hearing loss is determined," Rosenman-Nesson explains. 

Hard of Hearing Symptoms

People who are hard of hearing experience symptoms of hearing loss such as difficulty understanding speech and hearing sounds of certain frequencies.

Because it is difficult for people who are hard of hearing to hear properly, they may compensate by increasing the sound intensity of televisions, radios, headphones, and cellphones to loud volumes, or even withdraw from social situations due to difficulty hearing and understanding what other people are saying. 

“Asking for repetition, appearance of inattentiveness, forgetfulness, frustration, anxiety, isolation and even depression are some of the most common symptoms of those who are hard of hearing,” Amit Gosalia, AuD, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

Hard of Hearing Treatment Options

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, treatment for hearing loss depends on the severity of your hearing loss. Treatment options include:

  • Adaptive listening strategies such as sitting closer to sound sources and using phone amplifiers to increase the loudness of sound
  • Learning to read lips when people talk to better understand speech
  • Hearing aids, which can be used to treat many different types of hearing loss
  • Cochlear implants, which are typically used in cases of severe hearing loss

Hearing Loss Can Be Managed and Treated.

The earlier you address the symptoms of hearing loss, the more likely you are to avoid irreversible damage. Get the answers you need to start treatment today.