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 technical than it may seem at first. If you’re suffering from hearing loss, you can probably hear some things clearly at a lower volume, but not others. You might confuse certain letters like “S” or “B”, but hear other letters just fine at any volume. It will become more evident why you notice inconsistencies with your hearing when you learn how to interpret your hearing test. It’s because there’s more to hearing than simply turning up the volume.

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

Hearing professionals will be able to determine the state of your hearing by making use of this type of hearing test. It would be wonderful if it looked as simple as a scale from one to ten, but unfortunately, that isn’t the situation.

Rather, it’s printed on a graph, which is why many people find it confusing. But you too can understand a hearing test if you know what you’re looking at.

Looking at volume on a hearing test

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 be able to hear it.

If you’re unable to hear any sound until it reaches around 30 dB then you’re dealing with mild hearing loss which is a loss of volume between 26 and 45 dB. If hearing begins at 45-65 dB then you’re dealing with moderate hearing loss. 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

Volume’s not the only thing you hear. You hear sound at different frequencies, commonly called pitches in music. Frequencies allow you to differentiate between types of sounds, including the letters of the alphabet.

Frequencies which a human ear can hear, from 125 (lower than a bullfrog) to 8000 (higher than a cricket), are typically listed along the lower section of the graph.

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

So if you’re dealing with hearing loss in the higher wavelengths, you might need the volume of high frequency sounds to be as high as 60 dB (the volume of somebody talking at a raised volume). The graph will plot the volumes that the various frequencies will need to reach before you can hear them.

Is it significant to measure both frequency and volume?

So in the real world, 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 harder to hear or comprehend:

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

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

Inside of your inner ear you have very small hair-like nerve cells that vibrate with sounds. If the cells that pick up 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 entirely lose your ability to hear that frequency regardless of volume.

This type of hearing loss can make some communications with friends and family really 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 kind of hearing impairment find background noise overpowers louder, higher-frequency sounds like your sister speaking to you in a restaurant.

We can use the hearing test to individualize hearing solutions

When we can understand which frequencies you can’t hear well or at all, we can fine tune a hearing aid to meet each ear’s unique hearing profile. In contemporary digital hearing aids, if a frequency enters the hearing aid’s microphone, the hearing aid instantly knows if you’re able to hear that frequency. It can then make that frequency louder so you can hear it. Or it can utilize its frequency compression feature to change the frequency to one you can hear better. Additionally, they can improve your ability to process background noise.

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

Schedule an appointment for a hearing test right away if you think you may be suffering from 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.