How Can I Tell If I Have a Hearing Loss?

Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer “yes” to three or more of these questions, you could have a hearing loss and might need to have your hearing checked.

  • Do you sometimes feel embarrassed when you meet new people because you struggle to hear?
  • Do you feel frustrated when talking to people because you have difficulty hearing them?
  • Do you have difficulty hearing or understanding co-workers, clients, or customers?
  • Do you feel restricted or limited when you have a problem hearing?
  • Do you often think, “I can hear but I don’t understand what is being said?”
  • Do you have trouble understanding the dialogue on internet videos, movies, or in the theater?
  • Does a communication issue due to poor hearing cause you to argue with family members?
  • Do you ask people to repeat what they say?
  • Do you think others mumble?
  • Do you have difficulty hearing on the phone?
  • Do you have trouble hearing the TV or radio and turn up the volume that is too loud for others?
  • Do you feel your personal or social life is limited?
  • Do you have trouble hearing your dining companions when you are together in a restaurant?

Adapted from: Newman, C.W., Weinstein, B.E., Jacobson, G.P., & Hug, G.A. (1990). The Hearing Handicap Inventory for Adults [HHIA]: Psychometric adequacy and audiometric correlates. Ear Hear, 11, 430-433.

How do we hear?

Diagram of the inner ear
The auditory system
(Source: NIH/NIDCD)

Hearing depends on a series of events that change sound waves in the air into electrical signals. Your auditory nerve then carries these signals to your brain through a complex series of steps.

  1. Sound waves enter the outer ear and travel through a narrow passageway called the ear canal, which leads to the eardrum.
  2. The eardrum vibrates from the incoming sound waves and sends these vibrations to three tiny bones in the middle ear. These bones are called the malleus, incus, and stapes.
  3. The bones in the middle ear couple the sound vibrations from the air to fluid vibrations in the cochlea of the inner ear, which is shaped like a snail and filled with fluid. An elastic partition runs from the beginning to the end of the cochlea, splitting it into an upper and lower part. This partition is called the basilar membrane because it serves as the base, or ground floor, on which key hearing structures sit.
  4. Once the vibrations cause the fluid inside the cochlea to ripple, a traveling wave forms along the basilar membrane. Hair cells-sensory cells sitting on top of the basilar membrane-ride the wave.
  5. As the hair cells move up and down, microscopic hair-like projections (known as stereocilia) that perch on top of the hair cells bump against an overlying structure and bend. Bending causes pore-like channels, which are at the tips of the stereocilia, to open up. When that happens, chemicals rush into the cells, creating an electrical signal.
  6. The auditory nerve carries this electrical signal to the brain, which turns it into a sound that we recognize and understand.

This animated video illustrates how sounds travel from the ear to the brain, where they are interpreted and understood. View Journey of Sound to the Brain, a video produced by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

Hearing loss is the


most prevalent health condition in older adults

Approximately 20% or

48 million

Americans have hearing loss


28.8 million

U.S. adults could benefit from using hearing aids