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Human Hearing Range

There are a variety of sounds in our environment at any given time and place. From the faintest of sounds that we barely notice to the loudest of sounds that we experience, sounds and noises are, and always will be, a part of our lives. The human hearing range is a description of the frequencies and sound levels that we should be able to hear under normal circumstances. When you have any form of hearing loss, your hearing range changes. For most people hearing loss will begin by affecting your ability to hear higher pitches and progress from there. It is vital, when you first begin to notice a change in your hearing, that you speak with an audiologist immediately. They can test your hearing, plot out your results on an audiogram, and recommend a course of action if needed.

Measurement of Hearing Range 

If you have heard the term “sound wave” then you probably have a visual of how sound travels in waves and is transmitted over a medium such as a gas, plasma, or liquid. Sound waves enter our outer ear and travel through our ear canal to our eardrum. The eardrum vibrates and sends these vibrations to three bones called the malleus, incus, and stapes. The sound that we hear is measured in two ways:

  1. Frequency

The frequency of a sound wave is measured in hertz (Hz). The human ear, under normal circumstances, perceives frequencies between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz or 20 kHz. Any sound below 20 Hz is considered an infrasound while anything above 20 kHz is called an ultrasound. A frequency, while not the same as a pitch, is correlated to the pitch of a sound. The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch and the lower the frequency the lower the pitch.

  1. Loudness 

The loudness of a sound is measured in decibels (dB). How loud a sound is refers to the intensity of the sound in relation to the intensity at the threshold of hearing. The threshold for human hearing is about 0 dB. To get a feel for the loudness that most humans can tolerate here are some everyday examples:

  • Breathing is about 10 dB
  • A whisper is between 20 and 30 dB
  • A slightly noisy conversation is about 50 dB 
  • A lawn mower is about 90 dB
  • Chain saws register at about 120 dB
  • A jet taking off is about 150 dB

In terms of loudness, the normal human hearing range is between 0 and 120 dB. However, anything over 103 dB could cause damage to your ears and potentially result in hearing loss.

Understanding the Human Hearing Range 

To understand the human hearing range, you have to understand that humans hear sound on two levels: Pitch and Volume. Pitch is related to the frequency of the sound wave and volume is related to the intensity of the sound. The study of sound can be quite complicated, but as it relates to human hearing, it can be simplified.

As mentioned above, the human hearing range in terms of frequency is between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch of the sound. As people age, they often begin to lose their ability to hear sounds at higher levels. The following is a chart that shows normal hearing loss that occurs when people age:

Age of the PersonHearing Range in Hz
50 and under12,000 Hz
40 and under15,000 Hz
30 and under16,000 Hz
20 and under17,000 Hz
Young ChildrenUp to 20,000 or sometimes more

There are multiple things that can impact a person’s ability to hear sounds at certain frequencies, but age is the major indicator of the frequencies you can hear. Other aspects that can impact our hearing health include:

  • Noise Exposure. Extended exposure to loud and high pitched noises can cause damage to your ears.
  • Lifestyle Choices. A poor diet, high stress living, or drug use are all lifestyle choices that can have a negative affect on your hearing.
  • Disease. Certain diseases can affect your hearing.

The most common way to define hearing loss is in terms of the lowest dB levels at which a person can hear. For instance, if the quietest volume that a person can hear is 15 dB, then that person falls within the normal hearing range. The following is a table that contains one of the more common systems of classifying hearing levels:

Hearing LeveldB Range
Normal Hearing-10dB to 25dB
Mild Hearing Loss26dB to 40dB
Moderate Hearing Loss41dB to 55dB
Moderately Severe Hearing Loss56dB to 70dB
Severe Hearing Loss71dB to 90dB
Profound Hearing Loss91dB+

Taking Care of Human Hearing 

Hearing is one of the most important things that we have as humans. It helps to protect us, make us aware of our surroundings, build relationships with others, and optimize our ability to communicate. Because hearing is so important to us, there are some easy and important ways to take care of your ears. Here are 10 things you can do to protect your hearing health:

  1. Use ear plugs around loud noises
  2. Have your ears checked regularly by a doctor
  3. Turn the volume down
  4. Never insert a cotton swab into your ear
  5. If you are exposed to loud noises for an extended period of time, give your ears time to recover
  6. Watch out for early signs of hearing loss such as difficulty hearing conversations, frequently asking people to repeat themselves, difficulty hearing on the telephone, and nodding your head in agreement without knowing what is being said
  7. Keep your ears dry, especially after swimming 
  8. Manage your stress levels
  9. Stay healthy through exercise and diet
  10. Swallow and yawn frequently when on an airplane to keep the pressure in your eardrums equalized

How Mild-to-Moderate Hearing Loss Impacts Conversation

Mild hearing loss can be difficult to perceive at first, and sometimes it can gradually and painlessly progress without you being aware. As your hearing loss moves from mild to moderate, it becomes clearer that something is wrong, and your ability to hold conversations with others is one of the first things to be affected. At first, you may notice that your ears feel like they are plugged even if there is nothing in them. Often it sounds like the people you are conversing with are mumbling while everyone else hears them fine. In the beginning, a one-on-one conversation in a quiet space with little distance between you can seem like normal. It is when the conversation involves multiple people, the surrounding environment is noisy, or you are conversing over a distance or through the phone that you can really tell the difference. Here are some key indicators and annoyances involved with trying to hold a conversation when suffering from mild to moderate hearing loss:

  • You have difficulty holding a conversation when there is noticeable background noise
  • You frequently ask people to repeat themselves
  • You have difficulty hearing on the telephone
  • You feel like other people are mumbling even if everyone else hears them
  • When other high-pitched noises are present in your environment you have difficulty conversing
  • You often do not hear people correctly and reply to them out of context or answer questions that they did not ask

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