Hearing Test Audiograms and How to Read Them

Hearing aids and an otoscope placed on an audiologists desk with an audiogram hearing test chart

Measuring hearing loss is more technical than it may at first seem. If you’re suffering from hearing loss, you can probably hear certain things clearly at a lower volume, but not others. You might confuse certain letters like “S” or “B”, but hear other letters just fine at whatever volume. It will become more obvious why you have inconsistencies with your hearing when you figure out how to interpret your hearing test. Because merely turning up the volume isn’t enough.

When I get my audiogram, how do I decipher it?

An audiogram is a type of hearing test that hearing professionals utilize to ascertain how you hear. It won’t look as straightforward as a scale from one to ten. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it did!)

Rather, it’s written on a graph, and that’s why many individuals find it challenging. But you too can understand a hearing test if you’re aware of what you’re looking at.

Decoding the volume portion of your audiogram

The volume in Decibels is listed on the left side of the chart (from 0 dB to about 120 dB). This number will specify how loud a sound has to be for you to be able to hear it. Higher numbers signify that in order for you to hear it, you will need louder sound.

If you’re unable to hear any sound until it is around 30 dB then you’re dealing with mild hearing loss which is a loss of sound between 26 and 45 dB. If hearing starts at 45-65 dB then you have moderate hearing loss. Hearing loss is severe if your hearing begins at 66-85 dB. Profound hearing loss means that you can’t hear until the volume gets up to 90 dB or more, which is louder than a lawnmower.

The frequency portion of your audiogram

Volume’s not the only thing you hear. You can also hear different frequencies or pitches of sound. Frequencies allow you to differentiate between types of sounds, and this includes the letters of the alphabet.

Frequencies that a human ear can hear, from 125 (lower than a bullfrog) to 8000 (higher than a cricket), are usually listed on the lower section of the graph.

This test will let us ascertain how well you can hear within a range of frequencies.

So, for instance, if you’re dealing with high-frequency hearing loss, in order for you to hear a high-frequency sound it might have to be at least 60 dB (which is about the volume of a raised, but not yelling, voice). The volume that the sound needs to reach for you to hear specific frequencies varies and will be plotted on the chart.

Is it essential to measure both frequency and volume?

So in the real world, what could the outcome of this test mean for you? Here are some sounds that would be more difficult to hear if you have the very common form of high frequency hearing loss:

  • Beeps, dings, and timers
  • “F”, “H”, “S”
  • Higher pitched voices like women and children tend to have
  • Birds
  • Music
  • Whispers, even if hearing volume is good

While someone who has high-frequency hearing loss has more difficulty with high-frequency sounds, some frequencies may seem easier to hear than others.

Within the inner ear little stereocilia (hair-like cells) vibrate in response to sound waves. You lose the ability to hear in whatever frequencies which the corresponding hair cells that detect those frequencies have become damaged and died. You will entirely lose your ability to hear any frequencies that have lost all of the corresponding hair cells.

This kind of hearing loss can make some interactions with friends and family extremely frustrating. Your family members could think they need to yell at you in order to be heard even though you only have trouble hearing certain frequencies. And higher frequency sounds, like your sister speaking to you, often get drowned out by background noise for individuals with this type of hearing loss.

Hearing solutions can be individualized by a hearing professional by using a hearing test

We will be able to custom tune a hearing aid for your specific hearing requirements once we’re able to comprehend which frequencies you’re not able to hear. In contemporary digital hearing aids, if a frequency goes into the hearing aid’s microphone, the hearing aid automatically knows whether you can hear that frequency. It can then make that frequency louder so you’re able to hear it. Or it can change the frequency by using frequency compression to a different frequency you can hear. They also have features that can make processing background sound easier.

This creates a smoother more normal hearing experience for the hearing aid user because instead of just making everything louder, it’s meeting your personal hearing needs.

If you think you may be dealing with hearing loss, contact us and we can help.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.