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 complex than it might at first seem. If you’re suffering from hearing loss, you can probably hear certain things clearly at a lower volume, but not others. Most letters might sound clear at any volume but others, like “s” and “b” may get lost. When you figure out how to understand your hearing test it becomes clearer why your hearing is “inconsistent”. That’s because there’s more to hearing than just cranking up the volume.

How do I read the results of my audiogram?

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

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

Deciphering the volume section of your audiogram

Along the left side of the chart is the volume in Decibels (dB) from 0 (silent) to around 120 (thunder). The higher the number, the louder the sound needs to be for you to hear it.

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 volume between 26 and 45 dB. If hearing starts at 45-65 dB then you’re dealing with moderate hearing loss. Hearing loss is severe if your hearing starts 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 section of your audiogram

Volume isn’t the only thing you hear. You hear sound at varied frequencies, commonly called pitches in music. Frequencies help you differentiate between types of sounds, and this includes the letters of the alphabet.

Along the lower section of the graph, you’ll typically find frequencies that a human ear can detect, going from a low frequency of 125 (deeper than a bullfrog) to a high frequency of 8000 (higher than a cricket)

This test will let us figure out how well you can hear within a range 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 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 important to track both frequency and volume?

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

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

Some specific frequencies might be more difficult for a person who has high frequency hearing loss to hear, even in the higher frequency range.

Inside your inner ear you have tiny hair-like nerve cells that move 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. You will entirely lose your ability to hear any frequencies that have lost all of the related hair cells.

This type of hearing loss can make some communications with friends and family very frustrating. You might have trouble only hearing some frequencies, but your family members might think they need to yell in order for you to hear them at all. On top of that, those who have this type of hearing loss find background sound overshadows louder, higher-frequency sounds like your sister talking to you in a restaurant.

We can use the hearing test to personalize hearing solutions

When we can 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 goes into the hearing aid’s microphone, the hearing aid instantly knows if you can hear that frequency. It can then make that frequency louder so you’re able to hear it. Or it can use its frequency compression feature to alter the frequency to one you can hear better. They also have functions that can make processing background sound less difficult.

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

Schedule an appointment for a hearing exam right away if you think you may 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.