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How Much Hearing Loss is Considered Deaf?

By Jon McKenna
Medically Reviewed by Jordan Glicksman, MD, FRCSC, MPH on January 13, 2021
Deafness in one or both ears is a diagnosis that will depend on a professional’s assessment of what sounds you cannot hear, at what loudness, and at what frequencies.

You or a family member may be dealing with extreme hearing loss that came on gradually or suddenly. But, how much hearing loss is considered deaf? Whether or not deafness is the issue will depend on a professional’s assessment.

The Difference Between Hearing Loss and Deafness

“Profound hearing loss, or technical deafness, is the final stage on the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s five levels of hearing loss,” Janaan Moore, AuD, an audiologist in Chicago tells WebMD Connect to Care. “At that level, you need an inner-ear implant or the ability to read lips, visual cues, and/or sign language to communicate,” Moore says.

Diminished hearing at lower levels also can have a serious effect on your well being. “A mild hearing loss may only be an annoyance to one person while for another, it may … wreak havoc on their ability to hear and understand speech amid noise. In my experience, every individual is uniquely affected, and the degree of difficulty is not always proportionate to the degree of hearing loss,” Moore says. 

What Level of Hearing Loss is Considered Deaf?

At the profound (deafness) level, you cannot hear speech and may not be able to hear extremely loud sounds such as airplane engines, traffic, or fire alarms, according to the Hearing Health Foundation. The levels of hearing loss are:

  • Mild: You have difficulty hearing softer-spoken people and picking up softer consonant sounds, even if you get the more intense vowel sounds.
  • Moderate: Without a hearing aid, you may hear almost no speech when someone talks at a normal level. “You might feel like everything sounds muffled,” Moore explains.
  • Moderately severe: You miss most normal conversation in group or noisy settings, and probably need a hearing aid.
  • Severe: You cannot hear speech at normal levels, miss all but some loud sounds, and frequently rely on seeing facial expressions and other visual cues. “Hearing aids are a necessity,” Moore notes.

Another way an audiogram measures hearing loss is at decibel (dB) levels. A deaf person can only hear sounds at 81 dB (traffic) to 100 dB (industrial noise), explains Avner Aliphas, MD, an otolaryngologist in Newton, MA. With severe hearing loss, you need sounds to be between 61 dB (normal speech) and 80dB, Aliphas says. Someone with normal hearing can pick up sounds up to 20dB (quiet countryside).

But sound levels aren’t the whole story; sound frequencies are also important, according to Aliphas. You may have hearing loss only at certain frequencies. “This is why sometimes people are able to understand speech well in certain quiet situations and have great difficulty when in noisy environments,” Aliphas says.

Start Your Journey To Better Hearing Today

In many cases, hearing loss is a treatable condition. It is worth taking the time out to get the answers and treatment you deserve. Don’t wait. Start today.