With the launch of OTC hearing aids, one of the biggest questions asked is “How do I know what type of hearing loss I have?” The Johns Hopkins Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health thinks they have an answer in their Know Your Hearing Number public health campaign. The creators hope their campaign will inspire people to care about their hearing health by following their Hearing Number over time.
What is a Hearing Number?
Your Hearing Number tells you how loud sounds must be in order for you to hear them. And it’s not just for people with hearing loss. In fact, the campaign hopes that everyone will know their Hearing Number throughout their lifetime as a way to monitor this important aspect of overall health.
Hearing Numbers typically range from 0 to 100 decibels (dB). The higher the number, the louder sounds need to be in order for you to hear them. For children with typical hearing, Hearing Numbers can be less than 10 which is better than what is typically considered “normal” hearing on an audiogram. As we age, our Hearing Number is likely to increase. And we each have two: one for each ear.
How to Calculate Your Hearing Number
The Hearing Number is also known as the pure tone average or PTA, which is the simple average of the volume (in decibels) at which you hear four of the frequencies (in Hertz (Hz)) that are most impactful for speech understanding: 500 Hz, 1000 Hz, 2000 Hz, and 4000 Hz.
An example calculation from the Hearing Number website is below.
This simple average is just that: simple. It will not tell you everything you need to know about your hearing, especially if your audiogram does not match the classic pattern shown in the example above, but it can be useful in estimating the general degree of hearing loss that you have.
- Mild: 20-34
- Moderate: 35-49
- Moderately severe: 50-64
- Severe: 65-79
I Know my Hearing Number: Now What?
A Hearing Number is not a solution to hearing loss or a silver bullet for diagnosis or treatment, but it can serve as a guide to help direct you to the next step of your hearing loss journey. For all Hearing Numbers, communication strategies like the ones we discuss in Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss are important. So are everyday technologies like captioning and Bluetooth.
Where a Hearing Number can help most is determining your next step with hearing-specific technology. If your Hearing Number is mild or moderate, an OTC device may be appropriate for you. If not, a prescription device may be needed, or even a cochlear implant. Please note the significant overlap of prescription hearing aids with both cochlear implants and OTC devices. We all experience hearing loss differently, so the device that works for one person may not work for someone else—even if they have the same Hearing Number. If you feel uncertain about your next steps, a hearing care professional can help you determine which is best for your particular situation.
Hearing Number Perhaps Most Useful for the Uninitiated
Many of us reading this blog already know that we have hearing loss and what degree it is. The Hearing Number concept may be less important and helpful for us. But where it may have a meaningful impact is with the uninitiated—those not yet on their hearing loss journey or just at the start of it.
While simple and imperfect, if the Hearing Number can encourage the general public to take increased note of their hearing in the same way they do of their vision or cholesterol level, it will have been a useful tool, not only for raising awareness, but for improving hearing health across the spectrum.
Readers, do you know your Hearing Number?
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14 thoughts on “Do You Know Your Hearing Number?”
Many thanks for this Shari
Thanks for reading!
Thank you for this. So helpful, as always. I have shared in on my FB feed.
Thank you for sharing!
Good article, but the number ranges don’t add up
Moderately severe: 60-64
Thanks for your question. The hearing number is an average of the four numbers, not the sum.
Believe chart is wrong about Moderately Severe: Shouldn’t it be 50 – 64, NOT 60 – 64?
Oops — yes! Thank you for catching that typo. I will fix it now.
Moderat might be incorrect as well: should it be 35 – 49/
Fixed. Thank you!
Like me, I think Monica was referring to the Hearing Ranges, which don’t make sense (I believe this is what she meant when said “don’t add up.” HERE are the ranges from JH website: don’t know why Moderate isn’t shown as 35 – 49
Mild is a Hearing Number of 20 to 34
Moderate is a Hearing Number of 34 to 49
Moderately severe is a Hearing Number of 50 to 64
Severe is a Hearing Number of 65 to 79
Thank you. I think it is fixed now.