What Does It Mean to be Hard of Hearing or Deaf?

Nov 18 , 2019

What Does It Mean to be Hard of Hearing or Deaf?

Not all hearing loss is the same – so what is the difference between the terms “hard of hearing” and “deaf”? What about “Deaf” with a capital “D”? In general, there is a range of hearing loss from mild to profound, and different labels and terms are used to set them apart. Let’s look at each of these hearing related conditions, learn exactly what they mean, and understand the treatments available.


People who are deaf have profound hearing loss, meaning they have little to no hearing at all. Deafness is often related to issues at birth, later illness, or physical trauma. Also, age-related hearing loss can worsen over time to the “deafness” category.

Deafness is treated with hearing aids or cochlear implants. Hearing aids can be taken on and off an amplify sound. Cochlear implants are surgically implanted and transmit signals directly to the brain. It is a serious surgery, so it is reserved for people who have severe to profound hearing loss that haven’t had good results with hearing aids.

Deafness – with a Capital “D”

There is a difference between deaf and Deaf. Deaf is a specific community of people with profound hearing loss – a community with its own language, history, and culture. The Deaf community uses sign language and has pushed for equal rights under the government.

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) was founded in 1880 to advocate for the Deaf, and it has succeeded in helping pass multiple pieces of legislation. This includes the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects anyone with a disability, including deafness, from discrimination in jobs, schools, and transportation. The NAD today continues its work to improve the lives of the deaf through early intervention, education, employment, healthcare, technology, telecommunications, and more.

Some Deaf people choose to use hearing aids or cochlear implants. Others choose to not use any assistive technology and instead rely on American Sign Language and lip reading to “hear” and communicate with others.

Hard of Hearing

Anyone with general hearing loss that ranges from mild to severe can be considered “hard of hearing”. There are two types of general hearing loss, conductive and sensorineural. The two types of hearing loss may be treated differently.

When we think of hearing loss, we are typically thinking of sensorineural hearing loss. This is permanent hearing loss that occurs from damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. Age-related hearing loss is sensorineural and is the most common cause of this condition. Hearing aids or cochlear implants are the treatment options.

Conductive hearing loss, on the other hand, is hearing loss that occurs from obstruction or damage to the outer or middle ear. This prevents sounds from reaching – being conducted – the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss can be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause. For example, conductive hearing loss caused by swimmer’s ear or wax impaction are easily treated. But other conditions, such as stenosis (narrowing of the ear canal) cannot be corrected. In those cases, hearing aids are typically used.

The Importance of Treatment

Treating hearing loss, even mild hearing loss, is important for an individual’s overall health. Unfortunately, many people with hearing loss who could benefit from a hearing aid do not use one. Whether because of embarrassment, denial, or cost, it is easy to convince yourself that your hearing loss is not a serious problem.

However, even mild hearing loss negatively impacts your quality of life. From difficulty following conversations and participating in your usual activities to more serous balance problems, hearing loss leads to other problems. Two separate studies from John Hopkins found that hearing loss accelerates brain decline and increases the risk of falls in the elderly.

We understand the importance of hearing, which is why we have developed the one and only OWL: Occasional Wearable Listener. If you have slight to moderate hearing loss, you may benefit from the OWL. Contact us today to see if OWL may be right for treating your slight to moderate hearing loss.