What Does It Mean to Have Normal Hearing

What Does It Mean to Have Normal Hearing

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A
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Do you have “normal” hearing? Normal hearing means that you don’t have hearing loss. But what exactly is “normal” hearing and how did it become established? Here’s what it means to have normal hearing.

Hearing Thresholds

First, let’s take a look at hearing thresholds. This is the softest sound you can hear at any given frequency or pitch. The softest sound most people with “normal” hearing can hear is called audiometric zero. This is also 0dBHL or Decibel Hearing Level.

In 1933, at the World’s Fair, researchers performed hearing tests with thousands of people to establish a “normal” threshold. They averaged the softest sounds that people could hear at each frequency and made a standardized formula to make it easy to determine if someone has hearing loss.

What is Normal Hearing?

Normal hearing is a range of decibel levels starting from 0 dBHL to 20 dBHL. If you can hear sounds in this range at every pitch, then you have normal hearing. Some people can even hear sounds below 0 dBHL! Since the normal hearing range is average, some people can hear sounds that are actually below 0 decibels. 

People can usually detect sounds from 0 to 180 dB. However, sounds from 0 to 20 are extremely soft, and any sounds over 85 dB can damage hearing.

What is Hearing Loss?

If you just had a hearing test, and the results show that your hearing threshold is over 20 dBHL, you have a hearing loss. You fall outside the range of “normal” hearing, and there are some soft sounds you’re missing. If you have mild hearing loss, you may have “normal” hearing at some pitches and have hearing loss at other pitches. If you test outside the normal limits on a number of frequencies, then your hearing loss is likely affecting your ability to hear all the sounds around you and enjoy conversations.

Degrees of Hearing Loss

When you’re young, your hearing is typically better, and you have a wider hearing range. As you get older, some sounds are harder to hear, especially high-pitched sounds. You may have “normal” hearing in lower pitches, but a hearing test shows that you have hearing loss in higher pitches.

These are the average hearing thresholds at each degree of hearing loss:

  • Normal hearing – your hearing threshold starts below 0 for some pitches and doesn’t rise above 25dB on any pitch.
  • Mild hearing loss – your hearing threshold is a bit worse than normal hearing. You can’t hear sounds softer than 26 dB, and some of your hearing thresholds are as high as 40 dB.
  • Moderate hearing loss – your hearing thresholds are between 41 to 55 dB.
  • Moderately severe hearing loss – your hearing thresholds are between 56dB to 70dB, and you’re missing a significant number of the soft sounds in your environment. You can’t hear soft or whispered conversation.
  • Severe hearing loss – your hearing thresholds are between 71 dB to 90dB. You struggle to hear the sound of normal conversation  

How a Hearing Test Works

During a hearing test, your hearing health specialist is measuring your hearing thresholds at a number of pitches to find out if you have normal hearing. 

When you visit us for a hearing test, we’ll ask you to wear a pair of headphones, and we’ll play you a number of sounds at numerous pitches and several volumes. All you need to do is tell us when you’ve heard a sound. We’ll measure the softest sounds you can hear at each pitch.

If you can hear sounds between 0 dB and 25 dB, you have “normal” hearing! But remember that this is an average range. Maybe 5 years ago you could hear sounds from 0 dB to 5 dB, but now you’re hearing sounds around 20 dB.  You still have “normal” hearing, but you may have started noticing changes to your hearing health.

Baseline Hearing Test

It’s a good idea to get regular hearing tests to monitor your hearing health. Adults over 50 should get a hearing test every few years, and adults over 60 should have their hearing tested every two years. You and your hearing health specialist will notice as soon as your hearing health changes, and you’ll be ready to treat your hearing loss.