Hearing Test Audiograms and How to Interpret 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 seem at first. You can probably hear certain things clearly at lower volumes 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 read your hearing test. Because merely turning up the volume isn’t enough.

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 won’t look as simple as a scale from one to ten. (Wouldn’t it be fantastic if it did!)

Instead, it’s written 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.

Interpreting the volume portion of your audiogram

On the left side of the graph is the volume in Decibels (dB) from 0 (silent) to around 120 (thunder). This number will determine how loud a sound has to be for you to be able to hear it. Higher numbers signify that in order for you to hear it, you will need louder sound.

If you’re unable to hear any sound until it reaches about 30 dB then you have 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 can’t hear until the volume gets up to 90 dB or more, which is louder than a lawnmower.

Reading frequency on a hearing test

Volume isn’t the only thing you hear. You hear sound at different frequencies, commonly called pitches in music. Different types of sounds, including letters of the alphabet, are differentiated by frequency or pitch.

Along the lower section 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)

This test will let us figure out how well you can hear within a span of wavelengths.

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

Why measuring both volume and frequency is so important

Now that you understand how to read your hearing test, let’s take a look at what those results might mean for you in the real world. Here are a few sounds that would be more difficult to hear if you have the very common form of high frequency hearing loss:

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

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

Inside your inner ear you have very small hair-like nerve cells that shake along with sounds. If the cells that pick up a specific frequency become damaged and ultimately die, you will lose your ability to hear that frequency at lower volumes. If all of the cells that detect that frequency are damaged, then you totally lose your ability to hear that frequency even at higher volumes.

Interacting with other people can become really aggravating if you’re suffering from this type of hearing loss. You may have difficulty only hearing some frequencies, but your family members may think they need to yell to be heard at all. On top of that, those who have this kind of hearing impairment find background noise overshadows louder, higher-frequency sounds like your sister speaking to you in a restaurant.

We can use the hearing test to personalize hearing solutions

When we are able to recognize which frequencies you can’t hear well or at all, we can program 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 automatically knows if you’re able to hear that frequency. It can then make that frequency louder so you’re able to hear it. Or it can change the frequency through frequency compression to another frequency you can hear. 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 personal 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.