Degrees of Hearing Loss In Children

There are different degrees of hearing loss, ranging from mild to profound.

Mild Hearing Loss

A person with a mild hearing loss (hearing thresholds at 20-40 dB) may experience occasional difficulty hearing whispered words or very quiet sounds; they may have trouble hearing what people are saying in settings with a lot of background noise. A lot of people with mild hearing loss are unaware that they even have a hearing loss. However, even this level of hearing loss in children can affect speech and language development, as well as success in school.

School children with moderate hearing loss can benefit from compensatory strategies such as sitting close to the teacher, being positioned where they can see the teacher's face clearly, and having instructions repeated to them individually away from background noise. Amplification can also be helpful. An audiologist might recommend hearing aids, but an FM system may be sufficient in some cases.

Moderate Hearing Loss

People with a moderate hearing loss (hearing thresholds at 40-70 dB) have difficulty hearing a normal conversation in a quiet room. Unstressed syllables, and words at the ends of sentences where the voice trails off, will be especially troublesome. School children with moderate hearing loss can benefit from a combination of amplification (hearing aids, FM system) and compensatory strategies (sitting close to the teacher, being positioned where they can see the teacher's face clearly).

Moderately Severe Hearing Loss

Many professionals include a category called moderately severe hearing loss, which is typically the upper end of what others call "moderate": hearing thresholds between 55 and 70 dB. This is a helpful category to have, since there is actually a huge difference between 40 dB and 70 dB. Remember that the decibel scale is logarithmic, so a sound at 70 dB is 1,000 times louder than a 40 dB sound. People whose hearing is in this range often cannot hear people's voices at normal conversational levels, although they may be able to hear you if you raise your voice, especially if there is no background noise. Children with moderately severe hearing loss have a hard time learning effectively in a classroom setting unless they are using amplification and compensatory strategies.

Severe Hearing Loss

A person with a severe hearing loss (hearing thresholds at 70-90 dB) cannot hear conversations held at normal levels. Only a loud voice close to the ear is audible. Severe hearing loss in children is associated with high risk for speech and language deficits. This risk can be reduced through the use of amplification or sign language in addition to compensatory strategies. There are people with this level of hearing loss who consider themselves deaf and use sign language as their primary mode of communication, and there are others who consider themselves hard-of-hearing and rely on amplification and oral communication.

Profound Hearing Loss

A person with a profound hearing loss (hearing thresholds above 90 dB) is unable to hear any but the loudest noises, if that. Ninety decibels is about the level of a gas lawn mower. Even with hearing aids, most people with this level of hearing loss cannot hear spoken conversation. Children with profound hearing loss often do not benefit from hearing aids. Some parents of children with profound hearing loss elect to enroll their kids in special schools or programs for the deaf, while others choose cochlear implants for their children.

A word of caution about degrees of hearing loss

These degrees of hearing loss should be viewed as a general guide, rather than as strictly-defined categories. A person with 38-decibel thresholds will be in the "mild" range, but is closer to a person with 42-decibel thresholds ("moderate" range) than to a person with 25-decibel thresholds. Appropriate strategies for intervention should always be decided according the the individual's needs, abilities and circumstances, not arbitrary categories.

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