Hard of Hearing vs. Deaf - What’s the Difference?

Medical deafness refers to a state where a person cannot hear as well as the global average. Being deaf, on the other hand usually means not being able to hear at all. Although people also use the term when they speak of degrees of hard of hearing severity.

If we were to speak to a medical professional, they would probably agree ‘deafness’ means hearing loss, in particular difficulty understanding spoken language. In popular vernacular though, ‘deaf’ refers to a person who relies on sign language, while hard of hearing means they struggle to a degree.

Degrees of Deafness in Hearing – What They Mean

If you are feeling confused by now join our club. ‘Deaf’ and ‘deafness’ are misused terms schoolteachers once used to describe undisciplined students who refused to listen. Even to this day some people tell a hard-hearing person to ‘wake up and hear’ as it they have a switch somewhere.

The best way to decide if you have bad hearing vs. deaf is pop by an audiologist for a hearing test. Choose one who also sells hearing aids (most do) and they will likely do it free in the hope of an order. A few minutes later they will show you an audiogram that looks something like this:

The doctor will share an audiogram with you after a hearing test that looks something like this.

Hearing Audiogram of Left and Right Ears (Image I Justam)

The audiologist in the above example has gradually adjusted signal volumes until the client no longer reported hearing them, at which point they made a mark on the chart. The diagram shows the client has hard hearing severity in one ear only. The following diagram helps us how they experience their degree of deafness.

This chart shows the level of different sounds in decibels.

The Effect of Deafness on Normal Hearing

An artist has marked up a blank audiogram to illustrate how a bad hearing person, vs. a near deaf person loses audio contact at various degrees of deafness in hearing. Many seniors have mild to moderate deafness. We can see clearly how this affects their ability to hear conversation.

Hearing aids usually help hard hearing people on a mild to severe scale. However, those with profound deafness may require surgical assistance in the form of a cochlear or bone implant.

The Dimensions of Hard of Hearing Severity

The above audiogram is of a patient with hearing loss in one ear. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association defines a variety of deafness configurations:

  • High Frequency Versus Low Frequency deafness, where the loss affects low or high-pitched sounds.
  • Bilateral Versus Unilateral hearing loss where either both, or only one ear is affected.
  • Symmetrical Versus Asymmetrical deafness, in terms of how those two factors compare between ears.
  • Progressive Versus Sudden Hearing Loss: Did the condition appear all at once, or gradually?
  • Fluctuating Versus Stable Hearing Loss: Is your part-deafness consistent, or does it vary?

Can Doctors Reinstate Lost Hearing, Will It Get Steadily Worse

Hearing can dim instantly after a sudden, very loud noise, or if ear wax or a foreign object blocks our ear canal. It can also come about as a result of a middle or inner ear infection. Speak to your doctor as soon as you can if you have sudden hearing loss. They may be able to restore your hearing.

However, beyond that your hard of hearing severity may continue, or even get worse depending where you are of the scale of bad hearing vs. deaf.


Hard of hearing severity from conductive loss may be due to middle ear fluids caused by colds, allergies or infections. These usually respond well to medication. However, if they do not you may have a deformed ear canal. Speak to your doctor.


Sensorineural deafness in hearing is usually irreversible, and can reach a critical level on the bad hearing vs. deaf scale. It is often the result of gradual deterioration in the inner ear, or neural pathway to the brain. This is the commonest cause of deafness from aging.


Mixed hearing loss means you have both types of hearing impairment. This may indicate damage in the outer or middle ear, and in the inner ear or nerve pathway to the brain. One of these conditions is usually the main cause of lost hearing.

How Hearing Aids Reduce Hard of Hearing Severity

Permanent hearing loss – as opposed to deafness – is often down to a loss of sensitivity as we age. We can still hear but not as clearly, as if someone turned down the television sound. Our hearing loss is often in the frequencies of human speech which makes deafness so frustrating.

Blue Angels rechargeable hearing aids improve the quality of sound at these critical frequencies, while also amplifying them. They have volume controls to enhance the experience. Our hearing aids will never permanently reinstate your hearing. Although over thirty thousand customers assure is they make a deal of difference to their lives.

Blue Angels Hearing Aids are incredible devices that let you hear sounds you haven't heard in awhile.