Frequently Asked Questions About Hearing Loss


What is Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is a loss of the loudness and/or clarity of sounds. Most people have had temporary hearing loss at least once in their lives. If you have a cold or have been exposed to loud noise for a short while you may feel ‘a little bit deaf’. Or if the air pressure around you is changing, for example while diving or flying, your ears may feel ‘blocked’. In these cases your hearing should return to normal within a couple of days at most. If it doesn’t, see a doctor.

Why am I losing my hearing?

Hearing loss happens for many reasons. Some people lose their hearing slowly as they age. This condition is known as presbycusis (prez-buh-KYOO-sis). Doctors do not know why presbycusis happens, but it seems to run in families. Another reason for hearing loss may be exposure to too much loud noise. This condition is known as noise-induced hearing loss. Many construction workers, farmers, musicians, airport workers, tree cutters, and people in the armed forces have hearing problems because of too much exposure to loud noise. Sometimes loud noise can cause a ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in the ears, called tinnitus (tin-NY-tus).

Hearing loss can also be caused by a virus or bacteria, heart conditions or stroke, head injuries, tumors, and certain medicines.

How do I know if I have Hearing Loss?

The onset of hearing loss is usually very gradual. It may take place over 25-30 years or it may happen more rapidly if you are exposed to loud noises at work or through hobbies. By age 50 or 60, there can be enough deterioration to interfere with conversation. Because it usually does occur slowly, you may not even be aware you have a problem even though family and friends are quite aware of it.

Unless you have a moderate to severe hearing loss you’ll probably have no problem talking face to face with someone. However, you might find it difficult hearing someone on the telephone, in a noisy environment or from a distance. You may also find some higher pitched voices or words hard to pick up. You may need to listen to the television or radio at a volume that is too loud for others. And you may not always hear the telephone or doorbell when it rings. If you think you have some hearing loss, arrange through a doctor to have your hearing tested by a qualified audiologist.

How much noise is too much?

To know if a sound is loud enough to cause damage to your ears, it is important to know both the level of intensity and the length of exposure to the sound. The unit used to measure environmental sound intensity is the decibel (dBA). Zero decibels is approximately the softest sound the healthy human ear can hear. The scale increases logarithmically; that is, the level of perceived loudness doubles every 10 decibels. Experts agree that continued exposure to noise above 85 dBA, over time, will eventually harm hearing. In general, the louder the sound, the less time required before hearing will be affected. Sounds louder than 85 decibels (dB) can damage your ears. A decibel is a unit that measures the intensity of sound on a scale from zero to 140. A normal conversation is about 60 dB. Chainsaws, hammer drills, and bulldozers ring in at over 100 dB. So if you are a construction worker, harmful sounds may be a regular part of your job. The same goes for people working around lawn mowers and factory machinery every day. Airport workers and farmers are two more groups that are regularly exposed to loud noise. However, loud noise does not have to be an everyday happening to cause damage. One-time exposure, such as the sound of a gun firing at close range, can harm you.

Here is a list of common noises and their decibel levels:

  • Firecrackers (140)
  • Snowmobile (120)
  • Chain saw (110)
  • Wood shop (100)
  • Lawn mower (90)
  • City traffic (80)
  • Normal conversation (60)
  • Refrigerator humming (40)
  • Whisper (20)

What exactly is a TTY, TDD and/or Text Telephone?… is there a difference?

    With all the acronyms and other confusing lingo, people find it hard to understand what a TTY or TDD or text telephone is and what it actually does. Of course, nobody is going to buy something they don’t understand, so let us explain. All these different names mean the same thing: TTY stands for teletypewriter, TDD stands for Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf and Text telephone means a phone that is enabled to send text over phone lines. All these terms are referring to the same device.

So how does a TTY / TDD / Text Telphone work?

      This device or phone, when hooked up to a phone or analog jack, allows for the typing of messages back and forth between text telephones. Anybody can call in to a TTY phone (presumably to a hard of hearing or deaf person) from a relay service, also known as Telecommunications Relay Service or TRS (people love making up acronyms). Under Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act, this service must be offered free of charge by every state (just press 7-1-1 to get into touch with a representative from your state relay center).


    The Text telephone user can call in to the relay service and give the service representative a phone number to call to facilitate the relay. The TTY user can type in the message which the relay rep will verbally relay to the other person. The other person will verbally speak his message and the relay representative will type it into the Text telephone. Also, a non-TTY user can facilitate a call to the relay service (also by calling 7-1-1) so he or she can communicate with a TTY user. This service is available 24 hours a day.

What is VCO?

    Some Text Telephones offer VCO (yet another acronym) which stands for Voice carry over. This feature allows people who are hard of hearing but not speaking to communicate verbally but get typed communication relayed from the relay representative to the TTY phone.

What is HCO?

    Some text telephones offer HCO (another one?) which stands for hearing carry over. This feature allows people who hear clearly but have difficulty speaking on the phone to communicate through the relay representative by typing and listening to the other person regularly. So the relay representative will verbally relay your typed message while you listen to the person’s responses directly.

Federal law believes people with these types of disabilities deserve to communicate as effectively as everyone else, so we hope this information will help people understand and use these helpful services.

» Click here or more information about Relay Services

» Contact the FCC directly


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