What's the Difference? Hearing Loss, Hard of Hearing & deaf

This blog post has been reviewed and approved by a hearing care professional.

A common misconception when talking about hearing health is what specific terms mean when talking about hearing loss. People often also use the words deaf and deafness, hard of hearing, and hearing loss to mean the same thing. This can often cause misunderstandings between people, and between people and their medical care. 

If you want to have a better understanding for each kind of hearing condition, we wrote this quick guide to clearly describe the differences.

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss happens when there is a problem with one or more parts of the ear(s), the auditory nerves within the ears, or the part of the brain that controls hearing. It is a very general term that describes all levels of hearing impairment. Someone who has hearing loss might be able to hear some sounds or nothing at all. So what’s the difference? The difference lies between the different levels of hearing loss. 

There are several different degrees of hearing loss, including:

  • Mild: Softer or subtler sounds are hard to hear.

  • Moderate: It’s hard to hear speech or sounds that are at a normal volume level.

  • Severe: It may be possible to hear loud sounds or speech, but it’s very difficult to hear anything at a normal volume level.

  • Profound: Only very loud sounds may be audible, or possibly no sounds at all.

Hard of Hearing
Hard of hearing is a term that specifically refers to someone with mild-to-severe hearing loss. In these individuals, some hearing capability is still present. In most cases, there is enough residual hearing that an auditory device, such as a hearing aid or FM system, provides adequate assistance to process speech.

Deafness, or being deaf, refers to profound or complete hearing loss. A person who is deaf has very little hearing or none at all. When you are deaf, you are beyond normal means of improving your hearing through common methods, like hearing loss. No device that amplifies sound would help a deaf person to hear normal speech levels. 

The only way for a deaf person to hear again is through a cochlear implant, which is a device that is surgically installed in your skill close to your auditory nerve. It works by bypassing the damaged part of your hearing to stimulate the auditory nerve. You can often pair a hearing aid with a cochlear implant for better results. 

The results of cochlear implants will vary from person to person, due to the specific cause and nature of their deafness. 


This can refer to individuals who have become deaf later in life and who may not be able to identify with either the Deaf or the hard of hearing communities.

Why Do The Differences Matter?

The difference between these terms lies in the degree of hearing loss and how you can get help to improve your hearing. 

Someone who is hard of hearing may be able to get by with basic sound amplifiers and higher volumes. They may not need the same level of care from hearing care professionals. They may also find that hearing aids do not provide much help. However, someone with any level of hearing loss is encouraged to visit a hearing clinic for professional guidance and recommendations.

Someone with moderate to profound hearing loss may find that basic sound amplifiers don’t help them at all, and they need hearing aids. It will very likely be required to visit a hearing clinic and speak with a hearing care professional, such as an Audiologist or ENT. They will test your hearing and prescribe the best possible solution. If your hearing loss is temporary, they can help discover the underlying cause to restore your hearing. If it is permanent, they can recommend a hearing aid device best suited for your specific needs and lifestyle.

Someone who is deaf will find hearing aids by themselves do not help at all. They will need a cochlear implant which requires a very specialized procedure, rehab, and ongoing maintenance.

This is why it is important to know the differences. You do not want to waste time or money trying a solution for one kind of hearing impairment that isn’t meant for your specific condition. Talking with your doctor or a hearing care professional will help you get pointed in the right direction.

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