As with any medical specialty, hearing care providers use a lot of specialized language. To help you better understand what they're talking about, we've put together a glossary of some of the most common words and phrases you might hear while getting a hearing test or hearing aids.
An electronic sound processor located inside of a hearing aid that increases the incoming signal to improve the audibility of the outgoing signal.
To decrease the amplitude (loudness) or energy of a signal, making something less loud.
Assistive listening sevices (ALDs)
These devices improve communication in specific environments. ALDs include devices such as captioned phones, amplified phones, FM/DM systems, and TV listening devices.
A chart that displays the results of a hearing test.
A hearing healthcare professional who has earned a Masters Degree (M.S. or M.A.) or Doctorate Degree (Au.D. or Ph.D.) in audiology or a related field of study. Audiologists are trained to evaluate hearing loss and related disorders, including balance (vestibular) disorders and tinnitus, and to rehabilitate people with hearing loss and related disorders.
Brain atrophy in the auditory parts of the brain due to lack of stimulation from hearing loss.
A rehabilitation program guided by an expert to help you learn to hear better, with or without hearing aids.
Any sound that a person does not wish to hear or that interferes with what they are trying to hear.
Behind-the-ear hearing aid (BTE)
A hearing aid that rests behind the ear. Sound from the aid is carried through a small clear tube to an earmold that fits into the ear.
Bone conduction testing
A hearing test that involves transmitting sound to the inner ear via a small vibrator (bone oscillator or transducer) that is placed on the mastoid bone behind the ear or on the forehead.
Bone conduction thresholds
The lowest level that an individual can hear a pure-tone stimulus presented through a bone-conduction test. It attempts to assess the ability of the sensory and neural auditory systems without the sound passing through the outer and middle ear.
Secretion from glands in the outer ear canal that keeps the skin of the ear canal dry and protected from infection.
How clearly you can hear speech. Many people with hearing loss feel they can hear but not understand, which is a problem with speech clarity.
A small, snail-shaped organ in the ear that contain tiny hair cells. These cells convert soundwaves into electrical signals that are sent to our brain via the auditory nerve.
Medical device that bypasses damaged structures in the inner ear and indirectly stimulates the auditory nerve, allowing some deaf and hard of hearing individuals to learn to hear and interpret sounds and speech.
Conductive hearing loss
A form of hearing loss arising in the external ear canal, ear drum or middle ear. It refers to anything that blocks the passage of sound through the outer and/or middle ear.
A decibel, or its abbreviation dB, is a measurement of loudness that ranges from the threshold of hearing, 0dB to the threshold of pain, about 140dB. To put decibels in context, the volume of normal conversation is about 60dB and the roar of a jet engine is at least 120dB.
Some hearing aids have artificial intelligence to make assessments about a person's hearing environment.
Degree of hearing loss
A way to categorize the severity of hearing loss, ranging from normal, mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe, and profound.
A microphone in a hearing aid that lets a person focus on a sound coming from one direction rather than picking up sounds equally from all directions.
The ability to tell apart (discriminate between) similar-sounding words such as "fun" and "sun." People with normal hearing generally have 100% discrimination. If your word discrimination scores drop below 40% to 50%, you won't understand much of what you hear, no matter how loud it is.
The inexact reproduction of sound. Hearing aids, like all electronic devices, produce a small amount of distortion.
The range of loudness between the softest sound that a person can hear and the loudest sound they can stand (Uncomfortable Loudness Level). Hearing aids should be adjusted to keep all sounds within this range, although this is not always possible if you have a severely-collapsed dynamic range. The normal dynamic range is about 120 dB, while the dynamic range of a person with a severe or profound hearing loss may only be about 30 dB.
Dome (or ear tip)
Small, bell- or mushroom-shaped flexible silicone pieces that attach to the end of hearing aid tubing and fit deep in the ear canal. They're also known as tips.
The orifice in the ear that collects and funnels soundwaves into the middle and inner ear.
An impression of the ear canal made to determine the exact size and shape of an ear. Often done by squirting silicone-type material into the ear canal and letting it solidify. The impression is used to make in-the-ear hearing aids, earmolds for BTE hearing aids or custom-made earplugs.
Secretion from glands in the outer ear canal that keeps the skin of the ear canal dry and protected from infection.
Also known as the tympanic membrane, the eardrum is a thin, semi-transparent membranous wall that stretches across the ear canal and separates the outer ear from the middle ear.
A portion of a BTE hearing aid that is designed to bend over the top of the ear and connect the aid’s casing to the tubing.
The part of a behind-the-ear hearing aid that fits into the ear and directs sound from a BTE hearing aid into the ear canal. It also helps hold the hearing aid in place.
A high-pitched whistle or squeal that's made when an amplified sound is picked up by a microphone and re-amplified. For example, it occurs when the sound coming out of a hearing aid leaks out of the ear canal, gets back into the hearing aid's microphone and is amplified over and over until all it does is howl at its maximum loudness.
Feedback suppressor or canceler
Technology designed to limit the amount of feedback experienced by hearing aid users.
The number of vibrations occurring during a second, resulting in the perceived “pitch” of a sound. Typically measured in Hertz (Hz). Many people have high-frequency hearing loss, meaning they struggle to hear high-pitched sounds.
A term used to describe the amount of additional intensity added by a hearing aid or other amplifying device to an incoming signal during the amplification process. Low-gain hearing aids are hearing aids with just a little amplification.
A small attachment that helps hearing aids stay in place.
Sensory cells of the inner ear, which are topped with hair-like structures (stereocilia), which transform the mechanical energy of sound waves into nerve impulses.
The process of adapting to hearing loss, tinnitus, or both.
Hard of hearing
A term used to describe people with mild to severe / profound hearing impairment who are not deaf.
Hearing aid (hearing instrument, hearing device)
An electronic device that amplifies sound and directs it into the ear canal. A hearing aid usually consists of a microphone, amplifier and receiver.
Hearing instrument specialist
A person licensed to sell hearing aids. Also known as a hearing aid dealer or hearing instrument dispenser.
Hearing aid evaluation, consultation or fitting
The process of selecting an appropriate hearing aid and making sure the programming is appropriate for your hearing loss.
Hearing aid trial
A period of time (usually 30 days) during which a person may try hearing aids. If unsatisfied for any reason, the consumer is able to return them for a refund, minus an agreed upon trial fee.
Hearing aid settings
Customized settings that are specific to a person's type of hearing loss. Additional settings can be added for unique sound scenarios, such as listening to music.
Hearing in noise test (HINT)
A hearing test (usually used in testing people with hearing aids and cochlear implants) in which sentences are spoken against a background of white noise.
The quietest level a person can hear at least 50% of the time under ideal conditions.
The frequency or pitch of a sound in cycles per second. It is abbreviated as Hz.
High-frequency hearing loss
When a person struggles to hear high-pitched sounds.
A condition that makes many sounds painful to hear.
The third (innermost) section of the ear where sound vibrations and balance signals are transformed into nerve impulses. The inner ear contains the cochlea (organ of hearing) and the labyrinth or vestibular system (the organ of balance).
Exhaustion that results from struggling to hear all day.
The ability to determine the source or direction of a sound.
Part of the ear that containing three tiny bones (called ossicles)—malleus (hammer), incus (anvil) and stapes (stirrup)—that conduct sound from the eardrum to the inner ear via the oval window.
Midrange hearing loss
When a person can't hear mid-pitch sounds, also called "cookie-bite" hearing loss.
Mixed hearing loss
A hearing loss that has both conductive and sensorineural components.
Most comfortable loudness level (MCL)
The volume at which sounds are most comfortable for a hearing aid user.
Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL)
Hearing loss caused by exposure to very loud sounds, either very loud impulse sound(s) or repeated exposure to sounds over 90-decibel level over an extended period of time that damage the sensitive structures of the inner ear.
When a hearing aid is in the ear canal and it blocks or changes natural sound. This is desirable in severe hearing loss, reudcing the risk of feedback.
Physician/surgeon who specializes in diseases of the ears, nose, throat, and head and neck. An Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) physician. Also known as an ENT.
A magnifying and lighting tool utilized by health care workers to look into the ear canal.
Refers to any chemical or medication (drug) that is potentially harmful to the auditory system.
Presbycusis (age-related hearing loss)
Gradual hearing loss, especially in the high frequencies, due to aging.
The part of the hearing aid that receives noise and figures out how loudly to amplify it for the wearer.
Progressive hearing loss
Hearing loss that gets worse with time.
Pure tone audiometry or pure tone test
Refers to the part of a complete hearing evaluation that involves listening to pure tones of noise in a sound-treated room.
Pure tone average (PTA)
The average of your hearing loss at the following 4 test frequencies—500, 1,000, 2,000 & 4,000 Hz. The PTA is expressed in decibels (dB).
Tinnitus that is triggered by noise.
Real ear measurement
A testing technique used to measure the sound levels produced by a hearing aid while in the ear canal. A tiny probe microphone is placed in the ear canal ahead of the hearing aid.
The speaker in a hearing aid.
Recruitment (auditory distortion)
When a person's hearing is especially sensitive to loud sound.
A device that picks up remote sound and delivers it to a person's hearing aid. Teachers who have a student with hearing loss may wear one, for example.
The amount of measurable, usable hearing left to a person with a hearing loss.
Reverse-slope hearing loss
When a person struggles to hear low-pitched sounds.
Sensorineural hearing loss
Hearing loss caused by damage to the sensory cells and/or nerve fibers of the inner ear. The most common type of hearing loss in adulthood.
When movement within the body triggers tinnitus.
The relationship of a primary signal (a person talking) to the level of the ambient background noise. People with hearing loss need a much better signal-to-noise ratio than people with normal hearing.
The ability to be understood when using speech. As hearing loss increases, typically speech intelligibility decreases.
Speech recognition threshold (SRT)
The faintest level at which a person can understand simple two-syllable words 50% of the time.
A tiny coil of wire built into many hearing aids that allows the hearing aid to pick up the magnetic fields emitted by telephones, various assistive listening devices, or induction room loops. Sometimes referred to as "t-switch" or "t-coil."
The softest sounds (usually pure tones or speech) a person can detect 50% of the time. The term is used for both speech and pure tone testing.
Sensation of a ringing, roaring, buzzing or other sounds sound in the ears or head. It is often associated with many forms of hearing loss and noise exposure. The ringing or other sounds can be perceived in one or both ears, as occurring inside or outside the ear.
The eardrum. It separates the outer ear from the middle ear and is conducts sound to the middle ear.
Also referred to as immittance testing, this test assesses the integrity of the tympanic membrane (eardrum) and the middle ear cavity.
Uncomfortable loudness level (UCL)
The volume at which sounds become uncomfortably loud. Any further increase in volume would hurt.
Unilateral hearing loss
Hearing loss in one ear only.
Word recognition testing (WR)
A test that determines how well you can understand single-syllable words when they are heard at your most comfortable level. The results are expressed as a percentage.