Hearing Test Audiograms and How to Read Them

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 easy. You can probably 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” could get lost. When you learn how to read your hearing test it becomes clearer why your hearing is “inconsistent”. That’s because there’s more to hearing than simply 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 determine how you hear. It won’t look as basic as a scale from one to ten. (Wouldn’t it be fantastic if it did!)

Many people find the graph format confusing at first. But you too can understand a hearing test if you know what you’re looking at.

Looking at volume on an audiogram

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

A loss of volume between 26 dB and 45 dB points to mild hearing loss. You have moderate hearing loss if your hearing begins at 45-65 dB. 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. Different types of sounds, including letters of the alphabet, are differentiated by frequency or pitch.

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

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

So if you have hearing loss in the higher frequencies, you may need the volume of high frequency sounds to be as high as 60 dB (the volume of someone talking at an elevated volume). The graph will plot the volumes that the various frequencies will have to reach before you can hear them.

Is it important to measure 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 quite common type of loss would make it more difficult to hear or comprehend:

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

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

Within the inner ear little stereocilia (hair-like cells) move 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. 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 type of hearing loss can make some interactions with friends and family extremely frustrating. You may have trouble only hearing some frequencies, but your family members may assume they have to yell in order for you to hear them at all. In addition to that, those who have this type of hearing loss find background sound overshadows louder, higher-frequency sounds such as your sister talking to you in a restaurant.

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

When we are able to recognize which frequencies you cannot hear well or at all, we can fine tune a hearing aid to meet each ear’s unique hearing profile. Contemporary hearing aids have the ability to know 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.

Modern hearing aids are programmed to address your particular hearing requirements rather than just turning up the volume on all frequencies, which creates a smoother hearing experience.

If you believe you might 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.