Hearing Test Audiograms and How to Understand 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. You can probably hear certain things clearly at lower volumes but not others. You may confuse certain letters like “S” or “B”, but hear other letters just fine at any volume. It will become more apparent why you notice inconsistencies with your hearing when you figure out how to interpret your hearing test. It’s because there’s more to hearing than just turning up the volume.

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

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

Many individuals find the graph format challenging at first. But if you understand what you’re looking at, you too can interpret the results of your audiogram.

Examining volume on an audiogram

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

A loss of volume between 26 dB and 45 dB indicates mild hearing loss. 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. If you can’t hear sound until it reaches 90 dB or more (louder than the volume of a running lawnmower), it means that you have profound hearing loss.

The frequency section of your hearing test

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

Along the bottom of the graph, you’ll typically see 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)

We will check how well you’re able to hear frequencies in between and can then diagram them on the graph.

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 an elevated volume). The volume that the sound needs to reach for you to hear each frequency varies and will be plotted on the chart.

Is it important to track both frequency and volume?

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

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

While someone with high-frequency hearing loss has more difficulty with high-frequency sounds, certain frequencies might seem easier to hear than others.

Within the inner ear tiny stereocilia (hair-like cells) vibrate in response to sound waves. If the cells that detect a certain frequency become damaged and eventually die, you will lose your ability to hear that frequency at lower volumes. You will totally lose your ability to hear any frequencies that have lost all of the corresponding hair cells.

Interacting with others can become very frustrating if you’re suffering from this type of hearing loss. You may have trouble only hearing specific frequencies, but your family members might think they have to yell in order for you to hear them at all. In addition, those with this type of hearing impairment find background noise overshadows louder, higher-frequency sounds such as your sister talking to you in a restaurant.

We can utilize the hearing test to personalize hearing solutions

When we can understand which frequencies you don’t hear well or at all, we can program 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 whether you can hear that frequency. It can then raise the volume on that frequency so you can hear it. Or it can adjust the frequency through frequency compression to a different frequency that you can hear. In addition, they can enhance your ability to process background noise.

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

If you believe you may be experiencing hearing loss, call 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.