by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
January 12, 2017
Doctors, audiologists and other medical professionals use medical jargon that can snow under the average person. When it comes to our ears and our hearing, they may diagnosis us with terms like paracusis, or dysacusis or hypoacusis and we don’t have a clue what they have just said.
Here’s a primer of all those words ending in -acusis to make all this easy to understand.
First, you need to know that the root word “acusis” is from the Greek word “akousis” meaning hearing. Thus any word ending in -acusis is referring to hearing in some way.
Second, the prefix is generally also Greek and refers to a specific characteristic related to hearing.
With that it mind here are a number of words ending in -acusis it alphabetical order.
Anacusis — [AN-ah-KOO-sis] “An” is the Greek word for “not” or “without”. Thus an-acusis is “without hearing”—what we commonly call totally or completely deaf. The formal definition of anacusis is, “total loss or absence of the ability to perceive sound as such”.
Diplacusis — [DIP-lah-ah-KOO-sis] “Dipl” is from the Greek word “diplous” meaning “double” or “twice”. Thus dipl-acusis is hearing the same sound twice. The formal definition of diplacusis is “abnormal perception of sound either in time or pitch so that one sound is heard as two”. You may hear the same sound repeated twice (almost like an echo), or you may hear the same sound at two different pitches. For example one ear may hear the sound at the correct pitch and the other ear hears it either higher or lower in pitch. This can really mess you up if you are a musician.
Dysacusis — [DIS-ah-KOO-sis] “Dys” is from the Greek meaning “bad” or “difficult”. Thus dys-acusis is technically difficulty hearing. In medical usage it is defined as “1. Any impairment of hearing involving difficulty in processing details of sound as opposed to any loss of sensitivity to sound. 2. Pain or discomfort in the ear from exposure to sound.” Thus dysacusis is sometimes used when you can hear, but not understand what you are hearing. Other times it can refer to the pain or blocked feeling you have after exposing your ears to loud sounds.
Hyperacusis — [HIE-per-ah-KOO-sis] “Hyper” is from the Greek prefix meaning “over” or “above”. Thus, hyper-acusis is hearing that is above normal. The medical definition of hyperacusis is “abnormal hearing sensitivity”. People with hyperacusis perceive all (or certain) sounds as much louder that they really are. This is often the result of exposing your ears to loud sounds or from taking certain ototoxic drugs.
Hypoacusis — [HIE-poe-ah-KOO-sis] “Hypo” is the opposite of “hyper” and is from the Greek word meaning “under” or “less than”. Thus, hypo-acusis is hearing that is less than normal—in other words, a hearing loss. The formal definition is “hearing impairment of a conductive or sensorineural nature”.
Hypacusis — [HIP-ah-KOO-sis] “Hyp” is a shortened form of “hypo”. Thus hyp-acusis is identical in meaning to hypo-acusis. It just means you have a hearing loss.
Paracusis — [PAH-rah-ah-KOO-sis] “Para” is a Greek prefix meaning “abnormal” or “at the side of”. Thus para-acusis is hearing that is not normal in some way (which would include, but is not limited to a hearing loss), or more commonly “weird” hearing in much the same way we talk about the difference between “normal” and “paranormal” things. The formal definition of paracusis is “1. impaired hearing; 2. auditory illusions or hallucinations”. It is mostly used in the latter sense—for people hearing phantom sounds, or people that hear one sound, but their brain’s perceive it as another sound (illusion). Thus, if you have Musical Ear Syndrome, you have paracusis.
Paracusis, False — There are other “flavors” of paracusis such as “false paracusis” which is “the apparent increase in hearing of a person with a conductive hearing loss in conversation in noisy surroundings because of others speaking more loudly”. This is also true of those of us with a severe reverse slope hearing loss. Because we do not hear the loud low-frequency sounds very well, and because people with normal hearing talk or shout to be heard over the racket, we hear them very well. This is one situation where I used to say (tongue in cheek), “Don’t yell at me. I’m not deaf!”
Paracusis Loci —Another flavor of paracusis is Paracusis loci. “Loci” is the Greek word for location. Paracusis loci is defined as “loss or diminution of the power of determining the direction of sound”. One way you can have paracusis loci is if you hear differently in each ear. Thus if there is a fainter sound at some distance, your better hearing ear will hear it, but your worse hearing ear won’t. Thus you can’t tell from which direction the sound is coming. This is also true if you are deaf in one ear.
Presbyacusis — [PRES-bee-ah-KOO-sis] “Presbys” is the Greek word for “elder” (old man). Thus, presby-acusis is hearing loss associated with aging. The formal definition of presbyacusis is “loss of ability to perceive or discriminate sounds associated with aging; the pattern and age of onset vary”. Note that currently presbyacusis is typically spelled without the “a”, thus, “presbycusis”. Both forms are correct.
Socioacusis — [SOE-see-oh-ah-KOO-sis] “Socius” is the Latin word for “companion” and by extension “society”. Thus socio-acusis is hearing loss resulting from the effects of living in a noisy society. The dictionary much more narrowly defines socioacusis as “the hearing loss produced by exposure to nonoccupational noise such as small arms fire in hunting and target practice”.
There you have it. See how simple it is when you know a bit of Greek. Now you can truly say, “It’s all Greek to me!”
P.S. If you know of any other terms ending in -acusis, let me know and I’ll add them to this list.
All definitions came from Stedman’s Medical Dictionary.