Hearing Test Audiograms and How to Read Them

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

Determining hearing loss is more technical than it may seem at first. You can probably hear certain things clearly at lower volumes but not others. You may confuse certain letters like “S” or “B”, but hear other letters just fine at any volume. When you figure out how to read your hearing test it becomes clearer why your hearing is “inconsistent”. It’s because there’s more to hearing than just cranking up the volume.

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

An audiogram is a type of hearing test that hearing professionals use to calculate how you hear. It would be wonderful if it looked as basic as a scale from one to ten, but sadly, that isn’t the situation.

Instead, it’s printed on a graph, which is why many individuals find it challenging. But if you know what you’re looking at, you too can understand the results of your audiogram.

Interpreting the volume section of your hearing test

The volume in Decibels is indexed on the left side of the chart (from 0 dB to around 120 dB). This number will identify how loud a sound needs to be for you to be able to hear it. Higher numbers mean that in order for you to hear it, you will require louder sound.

A loss of volume between 26 dB and 45 dB signifies mild hearing loss. You have moderate hearing loss if your hearing starts at 45-65 dB. If you start hearing at between 66 and 85 dB then it means you have severe hearing loss. Profound hearing loss means that you can’t hear until the volume reaches 90 dB or more, which is louder than a lawnmower.

The frequency portion of your hearing test

You hear other things besides volume too. You can also hear different frequencies or pitches of sound. Frequencies help you differentiate between types of sounds, and this includes the letters of the alphabet.

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

We will check how well you’re able to hear frequencies in between and can then diagram them on the chart.

So, for instance, if you’re dealing with high-frequency hearing loss, in order for you to hear a high-frequency sound it may have to be at least 60 dB (which is about the volume of an elevated, but not yelling, voice). The graph will plot the volumes that the different frequencies will need to reach before you’re able to hear them.

Is it significant to measure both frequency and volume?

So in real life, what might the outcome of this test mean for you? High-frequency hearing loss, which is a very common type of loss would make it more difficult to hear or understand:

  • Beeps, dings, and timers
  • Birds
  • Music
  • “F”, “H”, “S”
  • Whispers, even if hearing volume is good
  • Women and children who tend to have higher-pitched voices

Some particular frequencies might be more challenging for a person with high frequency hearing loss to hear, even within the higher frequency range.

Within the inner ear tiny stereocilia (hair-like cells) shake in response to sound waves. If the cells that detect a specific frequency become damaged and eventually die, you will lose your ability to hear that frequency at lower volumes. If all of the cells that pick up that frequency are damaged, then you completely lose your ability to hear that frequency regardless of volume.

Interacting with other people can become really aggravating if you’re suffering from this type of hearing loss. Your family members may think they need to yell at you in order to be heard even though you only have difficulty hearing certain wavelengths. And higher frequency sounds, like your sister speaking to you, often get drowned out by background noise for people who have this type of hearing loss.

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

When we are able to understand which frequencies you don’t hear well or at all, we can program a hearing aid to meet each ear’s distinct hearing profile. In contemporary digital hearing aids, if a frequency goes into the hearing aid’s microphone, the hearing aid immediately knows if you can hear that frequency. The hearing aid can be programmed to boost whatever frequency you’re having difficulty hearing. Or it can change the frequency through frequency compression to another frequency you can hear. They also have functions that can make processing background sound simpler.

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

If you think you may be experiencing 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.

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