Hard of Hearing vs. Deaf: Differences, Symptoms, Treatment (2023)

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(Video) 3 Types of Hearing Loss - Applied Hearing Solutions

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than five percent of the world’s population has some form of disabling hearing loss.

Doctors will describe someone as having hearing loss when they cannot hear well or at all.

You may have heard the terms “hard of hearing” and “deaf” to describe hearing loss. But what do these terms actually mean? Is there a difference between them? In this article, we answer these questions and more.

The difference between being hard of hearing and being deaf lies in the degree of hearing loss that’s occurred.

There are several different degrees of hearing loss, including:

  • 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.

Hard of hearing is a term that refers to someone with mild-to-severe hearing loss. In these individuals, some hearing capability is still present.

Deafness, on the other hand, refers to profound hearing loss. Deaf people have very little hearing or none at all.

Deaf people and those who are hard of hearing can nonverbally communicate with others in several different ways. Some examples include American Sign Language (ASL) and lip-reading.

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Some of the symptoms of being hard of hearing can include:

  • feeling like speech and other sounds are quiet or muffled
  • having trouble hearing other people, particularly in noisy surroundings or when more than one person is speaking
  • frequently needing to ask others to repeat themselves or to speak more loudly or slowly
  • having to turn the volume up on your TV or headphones

In children and babies

Children and babies with hearing loss may show different symptoms than adults. Symptoms in children can include:

  • having unclear speech or talking very loudly
  • often replying with “huh?” or “what?”
  • not responding to or following directions
  • a delay in speech development
  • turning up the volume too high on the TV or headphones

Some symptoms in babies include:

  • not being startled by a loud noise
  • only noticing you when they see you and not when you say their name
  • appearing to hear some sounds but not others
  • not responding to or turning toward a sound source after they’ve reached 6 months of age
  • not saying simple single words by 1 year of age

A variety of factors can lead to being hard of hearing. They can include:

  • Aging: Our ability to hear decreases as we age due to the degeneration of the structures in the ear.
  • Loud noises: Exposure to loud noises during leisure activities or at your workplace can damage your hearing.
  • Infections: Some infections can lead to hearing loss. These can include things like chronic middle ear infections (otitis media), meningitis, and measles.
  • Infections during pregnancy: Certain maternal infections can lead to hearing loss in babies. These can include rubella, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and syphilis.
  • Injury: An injury to the head or ear, such as a blow or fall, can potentially lead to hearing loss.
  • Medications: Some medications can cause hearing loss. Examples include some types of antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, and diuretics.
  • Congenital abnormalities: Some people are born with ears that haven’t formed properly.
  • Genetics: Genetic factors can predispose someone to develop hearing loss.
  • Physical factors: Having a perforated eardrum or a buildup of earwax can make hearing difficult.

It’s important to see your doctor if you have hearing issues that interfere with your day-to-day activities. Your doctor can do simple tests to check your ears and your hearing. If they suspect hearing loss, they may refer you to a specialist for further testing.

People who are hard of hearing can choose from among several different treatment options. Some options include:

  • Hearing aids: Hearing aids are small devices that sit in the ear and come in a variety of types and fits. They help amplify sounds in your environment so that you can more easily hear what’s going on around you.
  • Other assistive devices: Examples of assistive devices include captioning on videos and FM systems, which use a microphone for the speaker and a receiver for the listener.
  • Cochlear implants: A cochlear implant may help if you have more severe hearing loss. It converts sounds into electrical signals. These signals travel to your acoustic nerve, and the brain interprets them as sounds.
  • Surgery: Conditions affecting the structures of your ear, such as the eardrum and bones of the middle ear, can cause hearing loss. In these types of cases, doctors may recommend surgery.
  • Earwax removal: A buildup of earwax can cause temporary hearing loss. Your doctor may use a small tool or suction device to remove earwax that’s accumulated in your ear.
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There are several steps that you can take to protect your hearing. For instance, you can:

  • Turn the volume down: Avoid listening to your TV or headphones at a loud volume setting.
  • Take breaks: If you’re being exposed to loud noises, taking regular quiet breaks can help protect your hearing.
  • Use sound protection: If you’re going to be in a noisy environment, protect your hearing by using earplugs or noise-canceling earphones.
  • Clean carefully: Avoid using cotton swabs to clean your ears, as they can push earwax deeper into your ear and also increase the risk of a perforated eardrum.
  • Vaccinate: Vaccination can protect against infections that can cause hearing loss.
  • Get tested: If you feel like you’re at risk for hearing loss, get regular hearing tests. That way, you’ll be able to detect any changes early.

Hearing loss resources

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If you have hearing loss, there are a variety of resources that you may find useful. These include the following:

  • Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA): This organization provides information and support for people with hearing loss and also offers resources for their loved ones.
  • National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD): Here, you can find information on various hearing and communication disorders and the ongoing research.
  • Ava — 24/7 Accessible Life: This app enables deaf people and those who are hard of hearing to follow conversations in real time. The app transcribes what people say and presents it as text on your screen.
  • Sound Alert: This app allows you to record important sounds in your home, such as the smoke detector alarm, doorbell, and phone ringtone. You can then receive a notification on your smartphone when these noises occur.
  • Subtitles Viewer: This app allows you to download subtitles onto your mobile device, which you can sync with the corresponding movie or TV program.

If you have a loved one who’s hard of hearing, you can communicate in ways that make it easier for them to understand you. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Try to talk in an area without a lot of background noise. If you’re in a group, make sure that only one person is speaking at once.
  • Speak at a natural, steady pace and just a little bit louder than you usually would. Avoid shouting.
  • Use hand gestures and facial expressions to provide clues as to what you’re saying.
  • Avoid activities that can make lip-reading difficult. These include eating while talking and covering your mouth with your hand.
  • Remain patient and positive. Don’t be afraid to repeat something or to try different words if they don’t understand what you’ve said.

The difference between being hard of hearing and being deaf lies in the degree of hearing loss.

People typically use being hard of hearing to describe mild-to-severe hearing loss. Meanwhile, deafness refers to profound hearing loss. Deaf people have very little, if any, hearing.

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There are many different causes of hearing loss, including aging, exposure to loud noises, and infections. Some types of hearing loss are preventable, while others can be present at birth or develop naturally with age.

If you have hearing loss that interferes with your daily life, see your doctor. They can evaluate your condition and may refer you to a specialist for further testing and treatment.


Hard of Hearing vs. Deaf: Differences, Symptoms, Treatment? ›

"Deaf" usually refers to a hearing loss so severe that there is very little or no functional hearing. "Hard of hearing" refers to a hearing loss where there may be enough residual hearing that an auditory device, such as a hearing aid or FM system, provides adequate assistance to process speech.

What is the difference between deaf and hard of hearing quizlet? ›

Hearing loss can range in severity from slight to profound. Children with losses described as mild and moderate are usually called hard of hearing; those with severe and profound losses are usually considered deaf.

What helps hard of hearing or deaf people hear better? ›

A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin (see figure).

What are the 2 levels of hearing loss that people might consider themselves to be hard of hearing? ›

Degrees of hearing loss refer to the severity of the loss and are generally described as mild, moderate, severe, or profound. Hearing loss that borders between two categories is typically labeled as a combination of the two categories (for example, thresholds at 60 dB HL might be called moderate-to-severe).

What are the 4 major types of hearing disorders? ›

While hearing loss can range from mild to profound, there are four classifications that all hearing losses fall under. The four types of hearing loss are sensorineural, conductive, mixed (sensorineural and conductive) and auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder (ANSD).

What is the difference between deaf and hard of hearing? ›

"Deaf" usually refers to a hearing loss so severe that there is very little or no functional hearing. "Hard of hearing" refers to a hearing loss where there may be enough residual hearing that an auditory device, such as a hearing aid or FM system, provides adequate assistance to process speech.

How do deaf people distinguish hard of hearing from deaf? ›

Often, people who have very little or no functional hearing refer to themselves as "deaf." Those with milder hearing loss may label themselves as "hard of hearing." When these two groups are combined, they are often referred to as individuals with "hearing impairments,” with "hearing loss,” or who are "hearing impaired ...

How do you treat someone who is hard of hearing? ›

If the hearing-impaired person has difficulty understanding a particular phrase or word, try to find a different way of saying the same thing, rather than repeating the original words over and over. Acquaint the listener with the general topic of the conversation. Avoid sudden changes of topic.

What are the symptoms of deafness? ›

  • Muffling of speech and other sounds.
  • Trouble understanding words, especially when in a crowd or a noisy place.
  • Trouble hearing the letters of the alphabet that aren't vowels.
  • Often asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly.
  • Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio.
Mar 30, 2023

What is the solution for hard of hearing? ›

There are five general types of assistive listening devices: audio induction (also called a hearing) loop, FM system, infrared system, personal amplified system and Bluetooth systems.

What level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid? ›

Moderate Hearing Loss

At this level, sounds of 41 to 65 dB may be missed. This range contains the bulk of conversational speech, along with TV, music, and many other vital sounds, and nearly everyone in this category will benefit from hearing aids.

What type of disability is hard of hearing? ›

[4] People with a variety of hearing conditions (including deafness, being hard of hearing, experiencing ringing in the ears, or having sensitivity to noise) may have ADA disabilities.

What level of deafness is considered a disability? ›

If you have hearing loss you qualify as disabled if have: An average air conduction hearing threshold of 90 decibels or more in the good ear. An average bone conduction hearing threshold of 60 decibels in the better ear. A word recognition score of 40% or less in the better ear, as determined by standardized tests.

What is the most common syndrome of hearing loss? ›

Usher syndrome is the most common form of autosomal recessive sensorineural hearing loss. This syndrome affects half of the deaf and blind population in the United States.

What is the most common hearing problem? ›

Sensorineural loss is the most common type of hearing loss. It can be a result of aging, exposure to loud noise, injury, disease, certain drugs or an inherited condition.

What are two disorders that can affect hearing? ›

  • Noise-Induced Hearing Loss.
  • Otosclerosis.
  • Pendred Syndrome.
  • Sudden Deafness.
  • Tinnitus.
  • Usher Syndrome.
  • Vestibular Schwannoma (Acoustic Neuroma) and Neurofibromatosis.

What is the main difference between deaf and deaf? ›

We use Deaf with a capital D to refer to people who have been deaf all their lives, or since before they started to learn to talk. They are pre-lingually deaf. It is an important distinction, because Deaf people tend to communicate in sign language as their first language.

What is the difference between deaf and hearing people? ›

To communicate with each other and the world using sign language or the lip-reading method, Deaf people have to look at each other while doing so. Meanwhile, hearing people using speech and depending on the sense of sound look away and break eye-contact at any time or point during a conversation.

What is the difference between deaf and deaf quizlet? ›

Lower case deaf usually refers to a person who has some degree of hearing loss. It refers to the condition of the ears only. Capital Deaf refers to someone who is culturally Deaf, they not only have some degree of hearing loss, but also identify with Deaf culture and use ASL.

What are the characteristics of deaf or hard of hearing? ›

Some of the common characteristics of deafness commonly found in classrooms include the following: Difficulty following verbal directions. Difficulty with oral expression. Some difficulties with social/emotional or interpersonal skills.


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