How to Interpret Your Hearing Test or Audiogram

Hearing aids and an otoscope placed on an audiologists desk with an audiogram hearing test chart

Determining hearing loss is more complex than it may seem at first. You can probably hear certain things clearly at lower volumes but not others. You might confuse particular letters like “S” or “B”, but hear other letters perfectly fine at any volume. When you figure out how to read your hearing test it becomes clearer why your hearing is “inconsistent”. Because simply turning up the volume isn’t enough.

How do I read the results of my audiogram?

Hearing professionals will be able to determine the condition 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!)

Rather, it’s written on a graph, which is why many individuals find it confusing. But if you know what you’re looking at, you too can understand the results of your audiogram.

Decoding the volume portion of your audiogram

The volume in Decibels is indexed on the left side of the graph (from 0 dB to around 120 dB). 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 is around 30 dB then you have mild hearing loss which is a loss of volume between 26 and 45 dB. You have moderate hearing loss if your hearing begins at 45-65 dB. If you begin hearing at between 66 and 85 dB then it means you’re dealing with severe hearing loss. 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.

Examining frequency on a audiogram

Volume isn’t 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.

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

This test will let us determine how well you can hear within a range of wavelengths.

So, for example, if you’re dealing with high-frequency hearing loss, in order for you to hear a high-frequency sound it may have to be at least 60 dB (which is around the volume of a raised, but not yelling, voice). The graph will plot the volumes that the various frequencies will have to reach before you can hear them.

Why tracking both volume and frequency is so essential

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

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

Certain specific frequencies may be more difficult for somebody with high frequency hearing loss to hear, even in the higher frequency range.

Inside of the inner ear tiny stereocilia (hair-like cells) move in response to sound waves. If the cells that detect a certain frequency become damaged and eventually die, you lose your ability to hear that frequency at lower volumes. If all of the cells that pick up that frequency are damaged, then you totally lose your ability to hear that frequency regardless of volume.

This kind of hearing loss can make some interactions with loved ones extremely frustrating. You may have trouble only hearing some frequencies, but your family members may think they need to yell in order for you to hear them at all. In addition to that, those with this kind of hearing impairment find background sound overshadows louder, higher-frequency sounds such as your sister talking to you in a restaurant.

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

When we are able to understand which frequencies you don’t hear well or at all, we can fine tune a hearing aid to meet each ear’s distinct hearing profile. In modern digital hearing aids, if a frequency enters the hearing aid’s microphone, the hearing aid automatically knows whether you’re able to hear that frequency. The hearing aid can be programmed to boost whatever frequency you’re having trouble hearing. Or it can use 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 specific hearing requirements instead of just turning up the volume on all frequencies, which creates a smoother hearing experience.

Schedule an appointment for a hearing exam today 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.