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Hearing Health Glossary

Learn more about the important terms and topics related to your hearing health.

Introduction to hearing terms

From audiogram to tinnitus, find all the terms commonly used for hearing loss and hearing aid technology. Throughout your hearing loss journey, you’re likely to come across new and unfamiliar terms related to hearing loss and hearing impairment. Understanding both the meaning of these terms and how they relate to your health is crucial—it’ll help you have productive conversations with your care team and become an advocate for yourself and others. Explore these important terms and resources:

Hearing health conditions

A wide variety of health conditions related to your ears can cause hearing loss. Learn more about types of hearing problems and the causes of hearing loss. 

A disorder that makes it difficult for the brain to interpret auditory information, potentially interfering with speech as well as hearing. This disorder  influences brain function, and can affect cognitive function, creating a greater risk of developing dementia.


The ability to recognize, compare and distinguish between different sounds. Hearing loss can make it more difficult to differentiate between high and low-frequency sounds, making some words harder to distinguish than others. Learn more about why you may be mishearing words here. 

An infection or inflammation of the outer or middle ear, caused by bacteria, pneumonia, the flu, viruses, a cold or allergies. Ear infection symptoms include congestion and swelling of the nose, throat and eustachian tubes. This condition is also known as otitis media

Inflammation of the inner ear and the nerves that connect the area to the brain. Labyrinthitis can lead to vertigo, dizziness and hearing loss. 

A chronic inner ear disorder related to a build-up of fluid in the inner ear. Ménière's disease can lead to recurring bouts of vertigo, ear pressure, tinnitus, fluctuating and/or permanent hearing loss. 

See ear infection, above.

A genetic hearing condition that causes abnormal growth in the bones of the middle ear (ossicles, see definition under Hearing anatomy), resulting in conductive hearing loss in one or both ears.

A genetic hearing loss disorder resulting in malformations of the inner ear and gradual hearing loss in children. 

Gradual hearing loss in both ears that occurs with age.

A type of tinnitus (see Tinnitus, below) characterized by a perceived whooshing or thumping sound synced to the heartbeat. Pulsatile tinnitus is usually caused by conditions that affect blood flow.

A type of tinnitus (see Tinnitus, below) that can be heard by both the person experiencing it and another observer.

A kind of tinnitus that’s only heard by the person experiencing it and can be perceived in one or both ears.  

Also known as otitis externa, swimmer’s ear is an infection, inflammation or irritation caused by water becoming trapped in the ear, commonly after swimming. 

The perception of sounds that have no external source, commonly described by individuals as ringing, roaring, humming or buzzing in the ears.

A rare genetic condition that affects both hearing and vision. It is associated with abnormal development of the hair cells of the inner ear, causing hearing loss. 

A condition that causes the sensation of  movement that isn’t actually happening, commonly described as dizziness or spinning. Vertigo is often related to tinnitus and other inner ear conditions. 
Woman with BTE hearing aid looking herself at the mirror

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Hearing health terminology

As you learn more on your hearing health journey, there will be a lot of terms that you’ll see and hear often. Whether they come up in conversations with your hearing care team or as you do more research on your own, it’s helpful to be familiar with their meanings. 

A healthcare provider who has specialized training at the doctoral level in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of hearing and balance disorders. Learn more about Miracle-Ear’s team of audiologists.

Hearing loss in both ears.

Hearing loss that occurs as a result of an obstruction or damage to the outer or middle ear. 

An objective physical unit of measurement to indicate the intensity of energy that sound waves produce. 

A hearing aid part that sits snugly inside the ear canal. The earmold helps to create a seal that enhances the quality of the sounds sent from the hearing aid into the ear. 

A naturally occurring substance in the ear canal. Ear wax is made up of secretions from the sweat glands, dirt, hair and other debris. 

The measurement of the number of sound waves in one second. The unit of measurement for frequency is hertz (Hz). 

A certified, licensed professional who is trained to test for and evaluate hearing loss and to custom-fit and program hearing aids. 

Hereditary hearing loss is caused by a mutation or absence of genes that affect the way the hearing structures of the ear are physically formed or function.


Hearing loss that includes difficulty following conversations that have low volume levels and speakers in noisy environments. It is associated with decreased sensitivity to high-frequency sounds but also can affect all frequencies. 

A term for hearing loss that is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. 

A degree of hearing loss that is more significant than mild hearing loss, typically associated with difficulty following conversations at normal volume levels without a hearing aid, and the perception of sounds blending together. 

Hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noises. This can result in sudden temporary hearing loss or permanent hearing loss. 

Any type of hearing loss that results from exposure to workplaces or other noise. Those most at risk for this type of hearing loss are people working in mining, construction, airline maintenance, military and manufacturing. 

Medications that cause damage to the inner ear, affecting the balance or auditory systems. 

A degree of hearing loss that includes the inability to hear speech and the ability to only hear extremely loud sounds, such as lawnmowers, fireworks and sirens. 

Sensorineural hearing loss is a  type of hearing loss caused by damage to the hair cells of the inner ear or the auditory nerve. 

A degree of hearing loss that includes trouble hearing conversations in most environments and being unable to hear everyday sounds. 

A type of hearing loss that only occurs in one ear. 
Father and doughter walking the dog

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Hearing anatomy

Your ears are made up of numerous bones, passages, structures and nerves that facilitate hearing and link them to the rest of your body. Learn more about the anatomy of the ear  and how they work together to make hearing happen.

A section of the brain that carries electrical impulses from the cochlea to the brain for interpretation. 

The biological system that enables us to hear by processing sounds. 

The spiral-shaped, fluid-filled cavity containing hair cells, which helps transform sound waves into electrical impulses to send to the brain via the auditory nerve.

The tube-like structure that runs from the fleshy, exterior portion of the ear to the ear drum. 

The thin, cone-shaped membrane that separates the outer ear from the middle and inner ear. 

The tube that connects the middle ear with the nasal-sinus cavity. It helps equalize pressure in the middle ear and allows mucus to drain from it. 

The tube that connects the middle ear with the nasal-sinus cavity. It helps equalize pressure in the middle ear and allows mucus to drain from it. 

Small, delicate cells in the ears that are moved by fluid generated by vibrations of the eardrum and bones of the inner ear. This motion creates electrical signals that are sent to the brain for interpretation as sounds. 

Second of three ossicles (see Ossicles, below) which bridges the gap between the malleus and stapes bones in the middle ear, and transfers sound vibrations between the two bones.


The innermost section of the ear, containing the vestibule, oval and round windows, the cochlea, the semicircular canals, and part of the auditory nerve. These parts work individually and in tandem and supports the ability to balance (see Vestibular system, below) and sends electrical impulses (sound energy) to the brain. 

A series of nerves and organs, including the cochlea, vestibule and semicircular canals. in the inner ear that facilitates hearing and enables your sense of balance. 

The first of three ossicles (see Ossicles, below) which attach to the inner surface of the eardrum and connect to the incus. Also known as the hammer bone. 

The section of the ear between the eardrum and the oval window (see Oval window, below), the middle ear is composed of three bones known as the ossicles—malleus, incus and stapes —as well as the eustachian tube (see respective terms). 

The outermost part of the ear. Its primary purpose is to gather sound waves from the environment, concentrate them and direct them toward internal parts of the ear. The outer ear is composed of the pinna, ear canal and ear drum. 

The three bones in the middle ear that transfer vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear as compression waves. 

A tissue membrane between the inner ear and the middle ear which assists in the transmission of sound waves from the stapes to the cochlea. 

The fleshy external portion of the ear that collects sound waves from the environment and acts as a funnel to direct the waves toward the ear canal. 

Three fluid-filled tubes in the inner ear that control balance. Movement of the fluid in the canals sends nerve impulses to the brain to balance and orient the body. 

A stirrup-shaped bone in the middle ear which transmits sound waves to the cochlea. It is one of the three ossicles (see ossicles) in the middle ear and connects the incus to the oval window. 

The central part of the labyrinth, next to the cochlea, that controls the body’s sense of equilibrium. 

 The biological system that supports balance, equilibrium and coordination. This system is housed in the inner ear. 

Hearing health treatments

When you’re experiencing changes in your hearing, it’s only natural to look for any and all kinds of hearing loss help. Luckily, there are plenty of hearing loss treatment options available to help you. Get to know the definitions for these terms and hearing device acronyms and ask your hearing care specialist about how they can help enhance your ability to hear and protect your hearing health.


A test that measures the extent of a person’s hearing across a spectrum of frequencies.

Devices that sit off the ear and work by sending vibration through mastoid bone or jaw joint (temporomandibular joint) to the skull which in turns transmits the sound to your inner ear and brain for processing. Bone conduction devices include hearing aids or headphones.

A type of hearing aid in which the microphone and amplifier sit behind the ear and sound is fed into an ear mold which sits in the ear canal. BTEs are among the most powerful hearing aids and can be used by patients with mild to severe to profound hearing loss. 

Surgically-implanted hearing devices that utilizes an electrode array to support the function of the cochlea. This solution targets the auditory nerve directly and is for people who have severe to profound hearing loss.  


Small electronic devices designed to assist your hearing by amplifying specific sounds in a given area. Learn more about the benefits of Miracle-Ear hearing aids.

The programming and use of various hearing aid settings that are designed to help users maximize their hearing capabilities. 

Any devices (other than hearing aids) that can provide support for people with hearing loss, including audio induction systems, FM systems, personal amplification systems, BluetoothTM and infrared systems. 

Devices placed directly into or over the ear to reduce the amount of sound transmitted into the middle and inner ear. Hearing protection devices can include disposable and reusable ear plugs, earmuffs and custom-molded earplugs. 

A type of discreet hearing aids that  that sit in the outer ear and ear  canal.  

A sound system that transmits electromagnetic energy to telecoil-equipped (telecoils, see below) hearing aids through a wire loop surrounding public spaces, such as public buildings, theaters and churches. This assistive system amplifies sounds in large, noisy areas and can be accessed by multiple users at once.

Hearing aids that can be purchased without a prescription or consultation from a hearing care professional. A 2022 FDA rule allowed these types of hearing aids to be purchased directly from retailers. 

Devices that amplify environmental sounds in a small radius for non-hearing impaired customers. These devices are not FDA regulated or considered medical devices.

 Sounds of specific frequencies used in audiograms to help measure the presence and extent of hearing loss. 

The most commonly used type of hearing aid. Receiver-in-canal hearing aids combine a behind-the-ear component that houses processing technology and a sound receiver that sits in the ear canal. 

The use of tones and sounds to promote relaxation and relief from conditions like tinnitus. Types of sound therapy include binaural beats, tuning fork therapy and vibrational sound therapy. 

A surgical procedure to correct hearing loss caused by otosclerosis (see definition under Hearing health conditions). This treatment is designed specifically for people experiencing otosclerosis. 

Also known as a “t-coil”, this hearing aid feature consists of a copper wire that receives electromagnetic signals from systems in public spaces (loop systems, see above) designed to help people with hearing loss. 

At Miracle-Ear the journey to better hearing health often starts with a simple, complimentary hearing test. You can take one online to get started and follow it up with an appointment with a hearing care professional at your local Miracle-Ear. While most people wait years to treat their hearing loss, getting started early has lasting benefits for your hearing, mental and physical health.

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