How to Understand Your Hearing Test or Audiogram

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

Measuring hearing loss is more complex than it might at first seem. If you’re dealing with hearing loss, you can probably hear some things clearly at a lower volume, but not others. You may confuse particular letters like “S” or “B”, but hear other letters perfectly fine at whatever volume. It will become more evident why you have inconsistencies with your hearing when you learn how to read your hearing test. That’s because there’s more to hearing than just cranking up the volume.

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

Hearing professionals will be able to get a read on the state of your hearing by using this type of hearing test. It won’t look as basic as a scale from one to ten. (Wouldn’t it be great if it did!)

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

Looking at volume on an audiogram

On the left side of the graph is the volume in Decibels (dB) from 0 (silent) to around 120 (thunder). This number will define how loud a sound needs to be for you to be capable of hearing it. Higher numbers signify that in order for you to hear it, you will need louder sound.

If you can’t hear any sound until it reaches about 30 dB then you’re dealing with mild hearing loss which is a loss of volume between 26 and 45 dB. You’re dealing with moderate hearing loss if your hearing starts at 45-65 dB. If you begin hearing at between 66 and 85 dB then it means you’re dealing with severe hearing loss. If you are unable to hear sound until it gets up to 90 dB or more (louder than the volume of a running lawnmower), it means that you’re dealing with profound hearing loss.

The frequency section of your hearing test

You hear other things besides volume also. You hear sound at different frequencies, commonly called pitches in music. Different types of sounds, including letters of the alphabet, are differentiated by frequency or pitch.

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

We will check how well you hear frequencies in between and can then plot them on the graph.

So, for example, 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 must reach for you to hear specific frequencies varies and will be plotted on the graph.

Is it significant to track both frequency and volume?

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

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

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

Inside your inner ear there are tiny hair-like nerve cells that shake along with sounds. If the cells that pick up a certain frequency become damaged and eventually die, you lose your ability to hear that frequency at lower volumes. If all of the cells that pick up that frequency are damaged, then you entirely lose your ability to hear that frequency even at higher volumes.

This kind of hearing loss can make some communications with friends and family really aggravating. 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. In addition to that, those with this kind of hearing loss find background noise overpowers louder, higher-frequency sounds such as your sister speaking to you in a restaurant.

We can use the hearing test to individualize hearing solutions

We will be able to custom program a hearing aid for your particular hearing needs once we’re able to understand which frequencies you’re not able to hear. Contemporary hearing aids have the ability to recognize precisely what frequencies enter the microphone. The hearing aid can be fine tuned to boost whatever frequency you’re having difficulty hearing. Or it can make use of its frequency compression feature to adjust the frequency to one you can better hear. In addition, they can improve your ability to process background noise.

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

If you believe 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.