When it comes to hearing, there are a lot of terms to know. Here is a glossary of relevant hearing terminology to help you better understand hearing health.
Acoustic Neuroma – A tumor, usually benign, which develops on the hearing and balance nerves, that can cause gradual hearing loss, tinnitus, and dizziness.
Acquired Deafness – Loss of hearing that occurs or develops sometime in the course of a lifetime but is not present at birth.
American Academy of Audiology – Largest of the professional organizations for audiologists.
American Sign Language (ASL) – Manual (sign) language with its own syntax and grammar used primarily by people who are deaf.
American Speech Language Hearing Association – A professional organization for both speech-language pathologists and audiologists.
Amplifier – An electronic sound processor located inside of a hearing aid that increases the incoming signal to improve the audibility of the outgoing signal.
Assistive Listening Devices (ALD’s) – Non–hearing aid devices used by a hearing-impaired individual to improve communication and the performance of activities in specific environments. ALDs include devices such as infrared and FM personal amplifiers, alerting devices, and closed captioning equipment.
Audiologist – A healthcare professional trained to evaluate hearing loss and related disorders, including balance (vestibular) disorders and tinnitus, and to rehabilitate people with hearing loss and related disorders. Audiologists use a variety of tests and procedures to assess hearing and balance function and to fit and dispense hearing aids and other assistive devices for hearing loss. Most audiologists have advanced doctorate degrees.
Atresia – The absence or closure of the external auditory meatus (ear canal).
Au.D. – Doctor of Audiology. A clinical doctorate degree.
Audiogram – A chart onto which is graphed the results of a hearing test. The chart has intensity levels listed on one axis and frequencies (pitches) listed on the other axis.
Audiology – The science of the assessment and management of hearing and balance disorders.
Audiometer – The electronic piece of equipment employed by a hearing healthcare professional to assess the hearing thresholds and speech awareness/processing ability of an individual.
Audiometric Evaluation a.k.a. Audiometry – Another name for a hearing test or hearing evaluation.
Aural Rehabilitation – Therapy or training sessions designed to improve communication skills.
Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) Test – Used to test the hearing of infants and young children, or to test the functioning of the hearing nerve. This painless procedure involves attaching recording disks to the head to record electrical activity from the hearing nerve and brainstem.
Auditory Nerve a.k.a. Acoustic Nerve – Eighth cranial nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain.
Auditory Perception – Ability to identify, interpret, and attach meaning to sound.
Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) – Inability of an individual with normal hearing and intelligence to differentiate, recognize, or understand sounds normally. Learn more about APD.
Autoimmune Hearing Loss – Hearing loss when one’s immune system produces abnormal antibodies that react against the body’s healthy tissues. May be associated with tissue–causing diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
Balance – A biological system that enables individuals to know where their bodies are in the environment and to maintain a desired position. Normal balance depends on information from the labyrinth in the inner ear, from other senses such as sight and touch, and from muscle movement.
Balance Disorder – Disruption in the labyrinth, the inner ear organ that controls the balance system, which allows individuals to know where their bodies are in the environment. The labyrinth works with other systems in the body, such as the visual and skeletal systems, to maintain posture.
Barotrauma – Injury to the middle ear caused by a rapid change of air or water pressure.
Brainstem Implant – Auditory prosthesis that bypasses the cochlea and auditory nerve. This type of implant helps people who can’t benefit from a cochlear implant because the auditory nerves are not working.
Behind–The–Ear Hearing Aid a.k.a. BTE Hearing Aid – A style of hearing aid in which the electronic portion of the hearing aid (including battery, microphone, speaker, amplifier, etc.) is located on top of or behind the ear. The electronic portion is connected via a piece of tubing to an earmold, which is in the ear.
Bilateral – A term used to signify that both ears or both sides of the head are involved (i.e., He has bilateral hearing loss.).
Bone Conduction Thresholds – The lowest level that an individual can hear a pure–tone stimulus presented through a vibrator placed on the mastoid bone or forehead. Bone–conduction threshold testing attempts to assess the ability of the sensory and neural auditory systems without the sound passing through the outer and middle ear.
Captioning – Text display of spoken words, presented on a television or a movie screen, that allows deaf or hard–of–hearing viewers to follow the dialogue and the action of a program simultaneously.
Cerumen (Ear Wax) – Yellow secretion from glands in the outer ear canal that keeps the skin of the ear canal dry and protected from infection.
Cholesteatoma – An abnormal accumulation and pocketing of dead cells in the eardrum, which can often be surgically repaired.
Cochlea – Snail–shaped structure in the inner ear that contains the organ of hearing.
Cochlear Implant – 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. Learn more about cochlear implants.
Cognition – Thinking skills that include perception, memory, awareness, reasoning, judgment, intellect, and imagination.
Completely–In–The–Canal Hearing Aid a.k.a. CIC Hearing Aid – A hearing aid that is designed so that most of the electronics are located in the ear canal. The smallest style of hearing aid currently available.
Conductive Hearing Loss – Hearing loss caused by an abnormal transmission of sound in the outer or middle ear. Most common in children.
Congenital Hearing Loss – The presence of hearing loss at or before birth.
Decibel (dB) – The unit used to measure the intensity or loudness of sound.
Dizziness – Physical unsteadiness, imbalance, and lightheadedness associated with balance disorders. Learn more about balance disorders and dizziness.
Dysequilibrium – Any disturbance of balance.
Degree of Hearing Loss – Terms utilized to represent the thresholds of hearing graphed onto an audiogram to help describe the different degrees of hearing impairment expected. One commonly used scale is: mild = 25 to 40 dB, moderate = 41 to 55 dB, moderately–severe = 56 to 70 dB, severe = 71 to 90 dB, and profound = greater than 90 dB.
Dri–Aid Kit – Various products containing drying agents, or utilizing heat, that are used to lessen the amount of harmful moisture built–up in a hearing aid.
Ear Infection – Presence and growth of bacteria or viruses usually in the middle ear.
Ear Wax (Cerumen) – Yellow secretion from glands in the outer ear canal that keeps the skin of the ear canal dry and protected from infection.
Ear Canal – The external auditory meatus. The hole in the temporal bone that tunnels the sound from the pinna to the eardrum (tympanic membrane).
Eardrum – The tympanic membrane. A thin layer of skin that separates the ear canal from the middle ear cavity. The eardrum converts sound waves into vibrations.
Earhook – A portion of a Behind–The–Ear hearing aid that is designed to bend over the top of the ear and connect the aid’s casing to the tubing.
Earmold – A piece of molded material that fills up some portion of the concha bowl and/or ear canal which is connected via tubing to a behind–the–ear hearing aid for the purposes of holding the tubing in place, sealing the canal, and modifying the sound.
Eng (Electronystagmography) – A special series of tests utilized to evaluate the vestibular system during which eye movements are measured electro physically.
Equilibrium – A body’s ability to maintain physical balance by using vestibular, visual and proprioceptive (sense of touch) input.
Etiology – In hearing terms, the source or cause of a hearing loss.
Eustachian Tube – A small connection between the throat and the middle ear cavity which in the normal human ear system is utilized to equalize the pressure in the middle ear cavity to the pressure in the atmosphere surrounding the body.
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction – When the tube that connects the throat and the middle ear cavity becomes inflamed or blocked. Eustachian tube dysfunction can lead to negative pressure, fluid in the middle ear, and/or middle ear infections.
Exostosis – A bony growth in the ear canal.
External ear – part of the auditory system comprised of the pinna and external auditory meatus.
Feedback – The high–pitched whistling sound that can be emitted by a hearing aid when the hearing aid’s microphone picks up its own output, thus re–amplifying itself.
Feedback Suppressor or Canceller – Technology present in some newer hearing aids that is designed to limit the amount of feedback experienced by hearing aid users. Low–end hearing aids lower gain to reduce feedback, while more advanced hearing aids alter the phase of the signal to control feedback.
Fistula – An abnormal hole or rupture in the window that connects the middle ear cavity and the cochlea, allowing the leakage of inner ear fluid (perilymph) into the middle ear and often resulting in hearing loss and dizziness.
Flat Audiogram – A description of the graph of an individual’s hearing thresholds in which the degree of loss present is similar or equal for low, mid and high frequencies.
Footplate – portion of the stapes bone that is attached to the two crura and that sits in the oval window.
Frequency – Cycles per second. The number of vibrations occurring during a second, resulting in the perceived “pitch” of a sound.
Gain – 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.
Genetic Hearing Loss – Congenital hearing loss. Hearing loss that is present at or before birth.
Hair Cells – 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.
Hard of Hearing – A term used to describe hearing–impaired individuals with mild to severe/profound hearing impairment who are not deaf.
Hearing – A sense, series of events in which sound waves in the air are converted to electrical signals, which are sent as nerve impulses to the brain, where they are interpreted as sound.
Hearing Aid – A battery–powered electronic device that brings amplified sound to the ear. A hearing aid usually consists of a microphone, amplifier, and receiver. Learn more about hearing aids.
Hearing Aid Dispenser – A person licensed by the state to dispense hearing aids, but who does not have university training in audiology.
Hearing Disorder – A general term used to describe any disruption in the normal auditory process.
Hearing Loss – Disruption in the normal process that may occur in either the outer, middle or inner ear, whereby sound waves are not conducted to the inner ear, converted to electrical signals and/or nerve impulses are not transmitted to the brain to be interpreted as sound. Learn more about hearing loss.
Hereditary Hearing Impairment – Inherited hearing loss that is passed down through the family.
Inner Ear – Part of the ear that contains both the organ of hearing (the cochlea) and the organ of balance (the labyrinth).
Immittance Measurements – Another name for tympanometry.
Impedance – an object or medium’s resistance to energy flow. A high–impedance medium will reject energy; a low–impedance substance vibrates more freely.
Impression – A mold of the concha and ear canal made by a hearing healthcare professional to assist the hearing aid manufacturer in producing a custom fit hearing aid that sits in and seals the user’s ear appropriately.
Incus – The middle bone of the ossicular chain.
Induction Coil – The telecoil inside of a hearing aid that is activated by electromagnetic energy coming from a telephone or assistive listening device.
Infrared – A signal used by some assistive listening devices to send sound via infrared light waves.
In–The–Canal (ITC) Hearing Aid – Smaller than an ITE hearing aid, it usually fills up a portion of the ear canal and a small portion of the outer ear. A mini–canal attempts to make the hearing aid even smaller by using a smaller battery.
In–The–Ear (ITE) Hearing Aid – A style of hearing aid in which all the parts of the hearing aid are fit into the concha or bowl area of the pinna and the ear canal. Variations of ITE hearing aids are:
Labyrinth – Organ of balance located in the inner ear. The labyrinth consists of three semicircular canals and the vestibule.
Labyrinthitis – Viral or bacterial infection or inflammation of the inner ear that can cause dizziness, loss of balance, and temporary hearing loss.
Listening Stethoscope – A device used by hearing healthcare professionals to listen to a hearing aid for the purpose of assessing the hearing aid’s performance and adjustments/repairs.
Loop System – A type of assistive listening device that utilizes a small neck or large room loop to set up a magnetic field. The system allows for a transfer of a desired signal, with less background noise interference, to a hearing aid or other device using electromagnetic energy.
Masking Noise – A sound introduced into an ear system for the purpose of covering up an unwanted sound. Masking noises are used during hearing tests to cover–up unwanted responses from a non–test ear. Tinnitus maskers also utilize a masking noise to cover–up tinnitus.
Mastoid – Hard, boney structure behind the ear.
Mastoid Surgery – Surgical procedure to remove infection from the mastoid bone.
Ménière’s Disease – An inner ear disorder that can affect both hearing and balance and is usually associated with vertigo (feeling like you’re spinning when you’re really not), hearing loss, roaring tinnitus, and the sensation of fullness in the ear.
Meningitis – Inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that envelop the brain and the spinal cord; may cause hearing loss or deafness.
Middle Ear – Part of the ear that includes the eardrum and three tiny bones (ossicles) of the middle ear, ending at the oval window that leads to the inner ear.
Mixed Hearing Loss – A hearing loss that has both conductive and sensorineural components.
Motion Sickness – Dizziness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and generalized discomfort experienced when an individual is in motion.
Noise-induced Hearing Loss – 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. Learn more about noise-induced hearing loss.
On–The–Ear (OTE) Or Open Ear Hearing Aid – A more recently developed style of a BTE hearing aid that utilizes a thinner tubing and a placement of the electronics lower down behind the ear for better cosmetic appeal with less occlusion.
Otitis Media – Inflammation of the middle ear caused by infection.
Otoacoustic Emissions – Low–intensity sounds produced by the inner ear that can be quickly measured with a sensitive microphone placed in the ear canal in individuals with normal hearing. Often used to screen the hearing of infants.
Otolaryngologist – Physician/surgeon who specializes in diseases of the ears, nose, throat, and head and neck.
Otologist – Physician/surgeon who specializes in diseases of the ear.
Otosclerosis – Abnormal growth of bone around the ossicles and the inner ear. This bone prevents structures within the ear from working properly and causes hearing loss. For some people with otosclerosis, the hearing loss may become severe, but often the hearing can be improved by surgery or hearing aids.
Ototoxic Drugs – Drugs that can damage the hearing and balance organs located in the inner ear.
Otoscope – A magnifying and lighting tool utilized by healthcare workers to look into the ear canal.
Outer Ear – External portion of the ear, consisting of the pinna, or auricle, and the ear canal.
Otolaryngologist – An Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) physician.
Postlingually Deafened – Individual who becomes deaf after having acquired language.
Prelingually Deafened – Persons either born deaf or who lost his or her hearing early in childhood, before acquiring language.
Presbycusis – Loss of hearing that gradually occurs because of changes in the inner or middle ear in individuals as they grow older the type of hearing loss often associated with presbycusis is a sensorineural hearing loss. Learn more about aging and hearing loss.
Pure Tone Audiometry – Refers to the part of a complete hearing evaluation that includes the measuring of air–conduction and bone–conduction thresholds while using non-complex (pure) tones.
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. Learn more about sensorineural hearing loss.
Sign Language – Method of communication for people who are deaf in which hand movements, gestures, and facial expressions convey grammatical structure and meaning.
Sudden Hearing Loss – Loss of hearing that occurs quickly due to such causes as an explosion or a viral infection.
Screening (Hearing) – An evaluation of the auditory system that is generally not as in-depth as a traditional hearing test and often does not include the actual assessment of an individual’s thresholds, but instead results in “pass” or “fail”.
Speech Audiometry – The portion of an audiological evaluation that uses speech stimuli to measure the auditory system. Speech audiometry testing often includes the measurement of Speech Reception Thresholds (SRTs) utilizing two–syllable spondee words and the assessment of Word Recognition / Speech Discrimination scores utilizing single syllable words in a carrier phrase. Some speech audiometry tests use sentence materials instead of single word materials.
Speech-language pathologist – healthcare professional who assess speech and language development and treats language and speech disorders.
Swim plugs – Material used to keep water out of the ear canal. They can be custom or non-custom made and are often used to prevent infections that can result from water getting into the ear canal or middle ear cavity.
Tinnitus – Sensation of a ringing, roaring, or buzzing sound in the ears or head. It is often associated with many forms of hearing loss and noise exposure. Learn more about tinnitus here.
Tympanoplasty – Surgical repair of the eardrum (tympanic membrane) or bones of the middle ear.
Tympanometry – A test, also referred to as immittance testing, done during an audiological evaluation that helps to assess the integrity of the tympanic membrane (eardrum) and the middle ear cavity. During tympanometry testing, a probe is inserted into and sealed in the ear canal and then a reflected tone is measured as the pressure in the ear canal is changed. The results are often graphed onto a tympanogram, showing the compliance at various positive and negative pressure levels.
Vertigo – Illusion of movement; a sensation as if the external world were revolving around an individual (objective vertigo) or as if the individual were revolving in space (subjective vertigo).
Vestibular System – System in the body that is responsible for maintaining balance, posture, and the body’s orientation in space. This system also regulates locomotion and other movements and keeps objects in visual focus as the body moves.
Vestibule – Bony cavity of the inner ear.