When is hearing loss a disability?

Last update on Oct, 03, 2023

Hearing loss: statistics and causes

Did you know that nearly 40 million American adults have hearing loss? Or that hearing loss is the 3rd most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease?

If that surprised you, here's a few more facts you need to know:

  • Hearing loss prevalence doubles with every decade.
  • Men are more likely to experience hearing loss
  • By the age of 65, 1 out of 3 people have some degree of hearing loss.

So, what is the key takeaway? If you're struggling with hearing impairment or hearing loss, you're not alone. Every day, people are experiencing changes to their hearing that result from various factors, including

  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Natural aging
  • Genetics
  • Infections
  • Certain medications

Hearing loss can range from mild to severe, impact one or both ears, and affect communication, relationships, and daily activities. But is hearing loss a disability?

In this article, we will define what constitutes hearing loss as a disability and how to find support and resources to ensure you never miss the sounds life has to offer.

Defining hearing loss disability

When a person experiences a significant loss of hearing that impacts his or her ability to communicate or perform work-related tasks, it may be considered a disability. The World Health Organization (WHO) has specific criteria for classifying hearing loss as "disabling."

According to WHO, hearing loss is considered a disability if the average hearing threshold level is greater than 35 decibels in the better ear. Similarly, The National Library of Medicine asserts that a hearing loss of more than 40 decibels is considered to be a hearing impairment.

Trained hearing care providers play a crucial role in diagnosing disabling hearing loss and impairment by conducting hearing tests to determine the severity and type of hearing loss an individual is experiencing. From there, they develop a treatment plan that may include:

  • Hearing aids
  • Cochlear implants
  • Other assistive listening devices

Individuals with disabling hearing loss can receive better support and improve their hearing and communication abilities by working with a hearing care provider.

Degree of hearing loss

The spectrum of hearing loss is divided into four categories: mild, moderate, severe, and profound.

  • Mild hearing loss: Hearing loss of 20 to 40 decibels that may result in difficulty hearing soft sounds or understanding speech in noisy environments.
  • Moderate hearing loss: Hearing loss of 41 to 60 decibels that makes conversations challenging and may require the use of hearing aids.
  • Severe hearing loss: Hearing loss of 61 to 80 decibels that makes it difficult to hear everyday sounds, such as a doorbell or phone ringing, and may require more advanced hearing devices.
  • Profound hearing loss or deafness: Hearing loss of more than 81 decibels that may require cochlear implants or other interventions. The impact of hearing loss on independence and daily life may be significant.

For example, if you experience hearing loss, you may struggle to communicate with others, leading to isolation and loneliness. You may also miss important information, such as announcements, alarms, and warnings.

Additionally, hearing loss can make participating in social activities, such as concerts or parties, challenging and may impact job performance.

However, with proper treatment and support, those experiencing hearing loss can continue to lead fulfilling lives.

How much hearing loss is considered a disability?

There are several methods commonly used to determine hearing loss and eligibility for disability benefits during hearing exams, including an otological exam, audiometric testing, speech recognition, and word recognition.

1. Otological exam

The otological exam is typically one of the first tests patients take to assess any physical abnormalities or issues affecting their hearing.

By examining the ear structure, clinicians can better understand the potential causes of hearing loss and determine which additional tests may be necessary to provide a comprehensive assessment. However, the specific order in which different hearing tests are administered followed by an otological exam can vary depending on individual circumstances and the healthcare provider's preferences.

2. Audiometric testing for hearing loss assessment

Audiometric testing helps assess the level and type of hearing loss that a person may be experiencing. This type of testing is typically done in a soundproof booth and involves using headphones to deliver a series of tones at different frequencies and volumes.

3. Speech Recognition Test (SRT)

In addition to audiometric testing, speech recognition tests (SRTs) are designed to measure a person's ability to understand spoken language.

This type of test can be particularly useful in assessing the impact of hearing loss on a person's daily life, as it helps identify any difficulties they may have in understanding speech in different settings.

4. Word recognition test

The word recognition test is often performed in conjunction with other hearing tests to provide a more comprehensive assessment of a person's hearing ability.

This test involves presenting a series of words at different volumes while the person being tested is asked to repeat the words to the examiner.

5. Determining hearing loss with cochlear implants

Cochlear implants might be a viable solution if you or someone you know is experiencing hearing loss. They are electronic devices that can help deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals perceive sound. However, it's important to note that while cochlear implants can improve hearing, they don't necessarily restore it to optimal levels.

One challenge that cochlear implant users often face is hearing in noisy environments. The reason for this is that cochlear implants don't always filter out background noise as effectively as natural hearing does.

To assess a user's ability to hear noise with cochlear implants, audiologists often use the "Hearing in Noise Test" (HINT). The HINT is a standardized test that measures a person's ability to understand speech in background noise.

• During the test, the person listens to sentences spoken by a speaker with competing noise in the background.
• The audiologist records the person's responses and uses the results to determine the user's signal-to-noise ratio (SNR).
• The SNR measures how much louder the speech signal is than the background noise.

Using the HINT, audiologists can determine if a cochlear implant user needs additional support to improve their hearing ability in noisy environments.

With the right support, cochlear implant users can improve their ability to hear and communicate in various settings.

FAQs on hearing loss

Is wearing a hearing aid considered a disability?

Wearing a hearing aid is not considered a disability in and of itself. Eligibility for disability benefits depends on various factors, including the severity of hearing loss, the impact on daily activities and job performance, and other medical conditions that may be present.

Is unilateral hearing loss a disability?

In certain cases, unilateral hearing loss may be classified as a disability, especially if it greatly affects a person's capacity to communicate and carry out daily activities.

This can be applicable to individuals who heavily depend on their hearing for work, or those who struggle with spatial awareness and safety due to hearing loss in one ear.

What is the VA disability rating for hearing loss?

For veterans with hearing loss, the disability rating ranges from 0 to 100 percent, depending on the severity of the condition.

• Mild hearing loss is typically rated at 0 to 10 percent
• Moderate at 30 to 60 percent
• Severe at 70 to 100 percent

This rating system ensures that veterans receive appropriate compensation for their service-related hearing loss.

Learn more about Veteran hearing loss benefits.

Initiating your disability benefits application

If you're experiencing hearing loss and it's impacting your ability to work, you might qualify for disability benefits via SSDI or ADA.

To start the application process, visit your nearby Social Security Administration office or apply online on their website. Remember, there are many required medical documents you must gather and provide about your condition and its impact on your work capacity.

As a result, you may find it helpful to seek guidance from a disability advocate or attorney to navigate the application process. Remember that you're not alone and that resources are available to help you obtain the necessary benefits.
Mom and daughter enjoying fall weather

Has your hearing changed?

If you've been experiencing changes in your hearing with symptoms such as, turning the TV up louder, asking people to repeat themselves, or struggling to hear in noisy environments, it might be time to get your hearing checked. Find a hearing care provider near you to get started today!

Members Blog

Find all about the latest news
Go to the blog

Rediscover the joy of sound

About Amplifon Hearing Health Care

Find out more

FREE virtual hearing screening

New innovation