Hearing health glossary A-Z

If you have recently started to suffer from hearing loss and are keen to understand the condition better, you'll have come across many new terms and phrases you may not have heard of. Don't worry – we've written a quick, easy guide to the most common ones. Take a look at our hearing health glossary.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability in several areas such as transportation, employment, communications, public accommodations and access to state and local government programs and services. The original law only included deafness, but an amendment in 2008 extended this to include hearing loss. Under the ADA, employers and public entities are required to provide reasonable accommodations to people with hearing loss such as induction loop systems, sign-language interpreters and assistive listening devices.

American Sign Language

American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual language that uses its own grammar and vocabulary, different from standard English. Used by the deaf community, words, signs and sentences in ASL are made using hand shapes, moving the arms and hands, finger movements and facial expressions (for instance, raising your eyebrows or frowning). Using ASL, people can exchange information, feelings, ideas and jokes just as anyone would using oral conversation. People start by learning how to sign the manual alphabet, from 1 to 10, one-word questions and important expressions.

Assistive Listening Device

An assistive listening device (ALD) is used in addition to hearing aids to improve the hearing of people with hearing loss and who are unable to clearly differentiate speech when there is background noise. Assisted listening devices deliver amplified sound directly to the users’ ear. These devices use infrared, FM radio waves or inductive loop technology to help people hear conversations, televisions, talk on the phone and listen to music.


An audiologist is a licensed health care professional trained to test hearing loss and related conditions such as tinnitus and balance disorders by performing audiology evaluations. An audiologist will use a variety of tests and procedures to assess an individual’s hearing and balance function and propose the best course of treatment. This may include dispensing and fitting hearing aids and other assistive devices for hearing loss and associated conditions.

Closed Captions

Closed captions allow viewers who are deaf or have reduced hearing to be able to follow the action and dialogue of a television program. Captions also provide information about who is currently speaking and any sound effects that may be particularly relevant to the story or plot of the program. While open captions are always in view, closed captions can be turned on and off by the viewer when required.

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss typically only affects 10% of all hearing loss and is most common in children. It is caused by blockage or damage in the outer ear, middle ear or ear canal. This makes it difficult for sounds to be able to pass from the outer ear to the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss is often temporary and resolves itself without any intervention. However, it is sometimes treated medically or surgically. Treatment will vary depending on the causes.


The loudness and intensity of sound is measured in decibels (dB). Sounds of less than 75 decibels, even after a lengthy exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss. However, repeated or prolonged exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (around the same level as a domestic vacuum cleaner) can cause a loss of hearing. Sounds of different frequencies should be between 0-20 dB in intensity to be heard by normal, healthy ears. If more than 20 dB is needed, further hearing evaluation is advised.


People who have none or very little residual hearing are considered deaf. A person may be deaf in one or both ears, and they will often use sign language and lip-reading as their primary form of communication. People are generally categorized as either congenitally deaf where a person was born deaf and adventitiously deaf. This is where a person was born with hearing that diminished later in life due to injury, illness or age-related hearing loss.

Hearing Aid

A hearing aid is an amplification device that helps people with hearing loss by making sounds louder so they are clearer and more audible. There are different kinds of hearing aids which are distinguished by the different way they are worn by the user. A hearing aid can be in-the-ear (ITE), in-the-canal (ITC), behind-the-ear (BTE), or on the body. While hearing aids can greatly improve a person’s level of hearing, they do not fully restore hearing loss.

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is when a person’s ability to hear is reduced. Hearing loss can be temporary and permanent and can encompass both people who are hard of hearing and those who are deaf. Hearing loss makes it harder for someone to hear sounds and speech clearly. The most common cause of a loss of hearing is ageing and exposure to excessive noise levels. Hearing loss cannot be cured and is most commonly treated with hearing aids in either one or both ears.


An otologist specializes in the surgical and medical care of adult and paediatric patients with problems of the ear, nose, throat and neck. These doctors are generally known as ENT physicians and the treat diseases affecting ears, balance system, skull base, temporal bone and related structures of the neck and head. An otologist will diagnose and treat tinnitus, hearing loss, dizziness, inflammatory diseases and infections in the ear, congenital abnormalities facial nerve disorder, and tumors of the skull base, ear and hearing nerve.

Unilateral Hearing Loss

Unilateral hearing loss is where there is a hearing loss in only ear. People with unilateral hearing loss can struggle to separate background noise from the sound they want to focus on, like someone speaking. It can also be difficult to interpret the direction that certain sounds are coming from. Unilateral hearing loss can be caused by a number of factors such as injury to the head or ear, perforated eardrum, impacted earwax, Ménière's disease and labyrinthitis, among others. It can be treated, but this will largely depend on the underlying cause and the extend of the hearing loss.


Tinnitus is the perception of sound or noise in the ears without any external source. It can be a ringing, buzzing, whistling, chirping or hissing sound in the ears. The sound can be constant or intermittent and is often linked to hearing loss and exposure to loud noise. For some people tinnitus can just be irritating and a little frustrating, but in more severe cases it can be detrimental to a person’s health and well-being. In most cases, tinnitus can be managed or treated with hearing aids.

Ménière’s disease

Ménière’s disease is an inner ear disorder that causes vertigo. It is caused by a build-up of fluid in the inner ear and usually just affects one ear, but over time both ears can become affected. Ménière’s disease can cause hearing loss, tinnitus, a sense of fullness or plugging in the ear and a sense that you are spinning associated with vertigo. It’s not a fatal or contagious disease, but symptoms can gradually get worse as time goes on. The vertigo symptoms can also increase in severity along with the risk of permanent hearing loss.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss refers to hearing loss that is both conductive and sensorineural. It means there may be damage in the auditory nerve or the outer, middle or inner ear. It can happen as a result of a long-standing infection, head injury or because a disorder runs in the family. Mixed hearing loss an affect either one or both the ears and can cause sounds to become softer and harder for a person to understand.

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most frequently diagnosed type of hearing loss and it occurs when there is a problem with the way the hearing nerve or inner ear works. It can be caused by damage to the sensory cells and nerve fibres of the inner ear. Common symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss include muffling of sounds, difficulty understanding speech, especially when in a noisy environment, need to turn up the volume on the TV or radio among others. Treatment generally depends on the cause and degree of hearing loss but can include hearing aids or surgery.


Vertigo is the feeling that you or the world around you is moving or spinning. It is a symptom of a range of conditions and can occur when there is a problem with the brain, inner ear or sensory nerve pathway. It can be caused by such as conditions as labyrinthitis and Ménière's disease. Symptoms of vertigo include balance issues, nausea and vomiting, tinnitus or ringing in the ear, headaches, a feeling of fullness in the ear. While vertigo can vary from being a temporary or permanent problem, some types can resolve without treatment. However, a person may need treatment such as medications, or surgery, if they have an underlying issue.

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