Humans have specific frequency and decibel ranges they can hear. When someone is affected by a condition that causes hearing loss, those ranges change. Certain conditions correlate with different frequencies and decibel sounds that they can and cannot hear, called the hearing loss frequency range.
Additionally, different degrees of hearing loss exist, which correspond to the range of decibels they can hear. To get a good understanding of the sensorineural hearing loss frequency range, different sounds will act as markers for decibel and frequency comparisons.
Hearing Loss Ranges
For a healthy individual, the widest hearing range sits between 20 Hz and 20,000Hz. However, many individuals only have hearing abilities between 2,000 and 5,000 Hz. A high-frequency sound is a high-pitch sound.
Many sounds exist in the natural world which humans never hear. For instance, dogs often hear sounds that go as high as 45,000 Hz. Think of a dog whistle.
Hearing Loss in High-Frequency Range
Many individuals with hearing loss struggle with high-frequency sounds. Some speech sounds like “th”, “f”, and “s” make up high-frequency sounds. This symptom of hearing loss typically occurs with aging, a condition known as presbycusis.
As individuals age, hearing abilities naturally start to wane, just like the health of other cells and organs in the body. This process can result from damage to inner ear hair cells, auditory nerves, or other age-related issues.
However, other factors beyond aging can also cause high-frequency hearing loss. One frequent event that causes the condition is exposure to loud noises. This can be one single event, like an explosion, or continuous exposure, like working in a factory, or around heavy-duty equipment without ear protection.
Other causes range from genetics, disease, infections, adverse reactions to medications, or injury.
Mid-Range Frequency Hearing Loss
Also called, cookie bite hearing loss, this is a unique form of permanent hearing loss. The condition affects individuals’ abilities to hear sounds in the middle range of frequencies. Picture a U-shaped graph, where the dip in the U corresponds to a loss of hearing in a frequency range.
This range in the middle is where most everyday speech and sounds. A conversation, a movie, a work presentation, and similar activities all have frequencies that fall in the mid-range. Thus, individuals with mid-range frequency hearing loss have more difficulty navigating daily life compared to others.
Mid-range hearing loss is a rare form of sensorineural hearing loss, and it typically does not begin to affect people until their late 20s to early 30s. Due to the late-onset, many people think the hearing loss may be age-related, but the two are vastly different. Age-related hearing loss does not tend to cause mid-range frequency loss.
This frequency-based hearing loss is typically caused by genetic factors, ototoxic medications, or diseases. As it is uncommon, treatments are not specialized. Patients can find hearing aids that can act to amplify specifically mid-range frequencies.
Low Range Frequency Hearing Loss
Another less common form of hearing loss, individuals who cannot hear lower-pitched sounds suffer from reverse-slow hearing loss. Common sounds in the low-frequency range include men’s voices, bass sounds, various piano keys, cars, and animals such as elephants.
Individuals with low-range frequency hearing loss may also struggle to hear vowel sounds, as they’re typically spoken at lower frequencies than consonants.
Patients with this rare form of hearing loss may hear low pitched sounds as rumblings. Often, they will not completely lose their ability to hear low pitch sounds; the sounds will be unclear and may seem muffled.
Low-range frequency hearing loss typically results from Meniere’s disease, autoimmune disorders, or a deformed bone.
Otosclerosis, an abnormal bone growth, is uncommon in itself, but it does play a major role in low-range hearing loss. Alternatively, the condition can result from different genetic causes.
Degrees of Hearing Loss
Depending on the damage done, individuals experience different degrees of hearing loss. One of the most common causes of hearing loss that corresponds to different degrees of hearing loss is due to exposure to loud noises. As noted previously, humans have a range of decibels they can hear, a portion of which is considered the normal hearing range.
This normal range is between 0dB and 180dB. However, by consensus, noises above 85dB can cause damage to one’s ears. Sounds at 85dB typically require extended periods, roughly 8 hours, to cause permanent damage, though. At 100dB, damage can occur within 15 minutes. Sounds greater than 1250dB can immediately cause damage.
To get an understanding of the decibel level of sounds, see below.
- Restful breathing— 10dB
- Standard human speech — 55- 60 dB
- Washing machine—70dB
- A busy public area/car traffic – 80dB
- A concert—100-110dB
- A siren/alarm – 110dB
- A plane taking off- 130dB
For further context, concerts can cause some degree of hearing loss within 15 minutes. If an individual were to stand near a plane while it took off, without ear protection, instant damage would be done to their hearing. This damage would be irreparable.
Severe Hearing Loss Range
When an individual suffers from severe damage to their ears, their range of sounds is significantly dampened. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the severe dB range for hearing loss is 71 to 90 decibels. That means individuals who can only hear sounds above 71dB have sustained severe hearing loss.
Moderate Hearing Loss Range
Individuals who have sustained an injury, developed a condition that leads to hearing loss, or have other common causes often fall in the moderate range. These patients cannot hear sounds below 41dB. As human speech lies above this level, patients with moderate hearing loss can still listen to normal conversations.
When patients are in groups, or crowded areas, listening to someone speak becomes more challenging. Thus, hearing aids can help greatly for these individuals.
Mild Hearing Loss Range
Mild hearing loss inhibits individuals from hearing sounds below 26dB. Like moderate hearing loss, this degree can still cause communication struggles in daily life. Although less severe, individuals with mild hearing loss should still seek treatment.
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