How to Read Your Hearing Test or Audiogram

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

It might seem, initially, like measuring hearing loss would be simple. You can most likely hear certain things clearly at lower volumes but not others. Most letters might sound clear at any volume but others, such as “s” and “b” may get lost. It will become more apparent why you notice inconsistencies with your hearing when you figure out how to interpret your hearing test. That’s because there’s more to hearing than simply cranking up the volume.

When I get my audiogram, how do I decipher 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 simple as a scale from one to ten, but regrettably, that’s not the situation.

Instead, it’s printed on a graph, and that’s why many individuals find it confusing. But you too can interpret a hearing test if you’re aware of what you’re looking at.

Looking at volume on an audiogram

Along the left side of the graph is the volume in Decibels (dB) from 0 (silent) to about 120 (thunder). This number will define how loud a sound has 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’re dealing with moderate hearing loss if your hearing starts at 45-65 dB. Hearing loss is severe if your hearing begins at 66-85 dB. Profound hearing loss means that you’re unable to hear until the volume gets up to 90 dB or more, which is louder than a lawnmower.

The frequency portion of your audiogram

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

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

This test will allow us to define how well you can hear within a span of frequencies.

So, for instance, if you have 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 around 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.

Why measuring both volume and frequency is so essential

Now that you know how to read your audiogram, let’s look at what those results may mean for you in real life. High-frequency hearing loss, which is a quite common type of loss would make it harder to hear or comprehend:

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

Some particular frequencies might be harder for somebody with high frequency hearing loss to hear, even within the higher frequency range.

Inside your inner ear there are very small hair-like nerve cells that vibrate with sounds. You lose the ability to hear in whatever frequencies which the corresponding hair cells that pick up those frequencies have become damaged and died. 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.

This kind of hearing loss can make some interactions with friends and family really aggravating. Your family members might think they have to yell at you in order to be heard even though you only have difficulty hearing certain frequencies. In addition, those with this kind of hearing impairment find background noise overshadows louder, higher-frequency sounds such as your sister talking to you in a restaurant.

We can use the hearing test to individualize hearing solutions

When we are able to recognize which frequencies you don’t hear well or at all, we can fine tune a hearing aid to meet each ear’s unique hearing profile. In modern digital hearing aids, if a frequency enters the hearing aid’s microphone, the hearing aid immediately knows if you can hear that frequency. It can then raise the volume on that frequency so you’re able to hear it. Or it can change the frequency through frequency compression to another frequency that you can hear. Additionally, they can enhance your ability to process background noise.

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.

Make an appointment for a hearing exam right away if you think you might be dealing with hearing loss. 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.