The signs of experiencing hearing loss can be incredibly subtle. For those that experience it, which is around one in eight Americans, the changes to your hearing can happen slowly over time.

Hearing loss can materialize in many different ways. Frustration while conversing with friends and family, recognizing that you can hear but not understand, experiencing tinnitus and thinking others are mumbling when they talk are all tell-tale signs that you may need to see a hearing specialist.

The experience of hearing loss can happen at any time in your life, for any reason. From presbycusis, a condition that comes with age, to noise-induced hearing loss, heart conditions, or even head injuries. There is no limit to why people experience hearing loss, so it’s essential to know the signs and how to take action on them.

What Happens You Have Hearing Loss

For sound to travel through the eardrum and into the brain, vibrations travel through a complex series of waves and changes. A chemical rush of vibrations turn into an electric signal in the cochlea, a spiral-shaped bone in the inner ear that contains liquid. The electrical signal is sent to the brain carried by an auditory nerve that becomes comprehensible in the brain.

When you experience hearing loss, you are experiencing the beginning of this process being is interrupted.

The electric signal that the auditory nerve receives is therefore not the same. This is due to the wear and tear in the cochlea. The sound vibrations are not transmitted to electric signals as efficiently as they would be. The wear and tear can range from the nerve cells being a little worn down to not being there at all.

Hearing is measured by decibels (dB). When looking into the effects of hearing loss, your abilities are compared to the decibels of conversational speech, around 65 decibels, respectively.

What You Can Do to Assess Your Hearing Abilities

When you experience signs of hearing loss, the first step is to seek assistance from a hearing specialist who will give you a test. Your first test will establish a clear baseline for your hearing health, similar to your regular general health checkups.

During this process, you’ll be tested on your ability to detect loudness and pitch based on frequency and vibrations. This will be determined by the average decibels that are audible to you, ranging from mild (21-45 dB) to profound (91 dB).

There are two main tests that you can do to grasp a comprehensive understanding of your hearing abilities. Pure tone audiometry tests your inner and outer hearing pathways, and speech discrimination looks into how well you can recognize words through repetition. A hearing health professional will also look into the overall health of your inner ear for any further underlying issues that may be present.

From there, hearing health professionals can determine what type of hearing loss you are experiencing and provide the health care that you need.