Is There a Difference Between Hearing Loss & Deafness?

Did you know that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 5% of the world’s population has some form of hearing loss? (source)  Medical professionals describe someone as having hearing loss when they cannot hear well or at all. Many people often don’t know the difference between the terms “hearing loss,” “hearing impaired,” “hard of hearing,” “deaf,” and “deafened,” both in definition and appropriateness of use. What do these terms mean? Is there actually a difference between them? In this article, we answer these questions and more.

Hearing Loss & Deafness: What’s the Difference?

Hearing loss can be defined as a “diminished ability to hear sounds like other people do (Medical News Today).” Healthy hearing is scientifically categorized by the World Health Organization as having a hearing threshold of 25 decibels (dB) in both ears.

Deafness is defined by the World Health Organization as those with “profound hearing loss and implies little to no hearing at all.”

The term “hearing impaired” is often used to describe people with any degree of hearing loss, from mild to profound, including those who are deaf and those who are hard of hearing. (source)

The terms “deaf” or “deafness” have varying definitions in cultural and medical contexts. In medical contexts, the meaning of deafness is an audiological condition that precludes a person from understanding spoken language. (source)

So in short, the terms “hearing loss” and “deafness” are types of hearing impairment. Hearing loss can mean partial or total inability to hear. The terms “deaf” or “deafness” are used when profound or severe hearing loss is present, which indicates a complete loss of hearing ability in one or both ears.

For more information on appropriate terminology, consult the resource at the National Association of the Deaf titled Community and Culture – Frequently Asked Questions.

For additional resources visit the National Association of the Deaf or the Hearing Loss Association of America.

Hearing Loss and Deafness: What You Should Know

Although the two terms overlap, they are not identical. Hearing loss includes cases that are not severe enough to impact spoken language comprehension, while the term “deaf” includes people who use sign language. Hearing loss and deafness have many causes and can occur at any age. They may occur in one or both ears, and it can be temporary or permanent.

Medically, hearing loss is determined by the results of a hearing assessment. There are parameters set out to classify someone as either deaf or hard of hearing. A complete hearing assessment examines how loud sounds across the frequency range have to be in order for you to detect them. It also gauges how well you can understand speech.

Hearing loss and deafness can be categorized as mild, moderate, severe, and profound:

  • Mild: Softer or subtler sounds are hard to hear.
  • Moderate: It’s hard to hear speech or sounds that are at a normal volume level.
  • Severe: It may be possible to hear loud sounds or speech, but it’s very difficult to hear anything at a normal volume level.
  • Profound: Only very loud sounds may be audible, or possibly no sounds at all.

A person who is hard of hearing can have a range of hearing loss from mild to severe. It should be noted that hearing aid technology is available for people with mild to profound hearing loss. 

If you or a loved one experience any form of hearing loss, it is recommended that you see a hearing care professional in order to diagnose the problem and prevent further hearing damage.

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