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

It may seem, at first, like measuring hearing loss would be simple. You can probably hear certain things clearly at lower volumes but not others. Most letters may sound clear at any volume but others, such as “s” and “b” could get lost. When you figure out how to interpret your hearing test it becomes clearer why your hearing is “inconsistent”. Because simply turning up the volume isn’t enough.

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

An audiogram is a type of hearing test that hearing professionals use to calculate how you hear. It would be terrific if it looked as simple as a scale from one to ten, but regrettably, that isn’t the situation.

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

Looking at volume on an audiogram

Along the left side of the graph 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 be able to hear it.

If you’re unable to hear any sound until it is around 30 dB then you’re dealing with mild hearing loss which is a loss of volume between 26 and 45 dB. You’re dealing with 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’re unable to hear until the volume reaches 90 dB or more, which is louder than a lawnmower.

The frequency portion of your audiogram

You hear other things besides volume too. You hear sound at varied frequencies, commonly called pitches in music. Frequencies help you distinguish between types of sounds, including the letters of the alphabet.

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

This test will allow us to ascertain how well you can hear within a span of frequencies.

So if you have 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 someone talking at a raised volume). The volume that the sound needs to reach for you to hear specific frequencies varies and will be plotted on the chart.

Why measuring both volume and frequency is so essential

Now that you understand how to interpret your audiogram, let’s take a look at what those results might mean for you in the real world. High-frequency hearing loss, which is a very common type of loss would make it more difficult to hear or comprehend:

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

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

Inside of the inner ear little stereocilia (hair-like cells) shake in response to sound waves. You lose the ability to hear in any frequencies which the corresponding hair cells that pick up those frequencies have become damaged and have died. You will completely lose your ability to hear any frequencies that have lost all of the corresponding hair cells.

This type of hearing loss can make some interactions with friends and family extremely frustrating. You might have trouble only hearing certain frequencies, but your family members may assume they need to yell in order for you to hear them at all. And higher frequency sounds, such as your sister speaking to you, often get drowned out by background noise for individuals who have this type of hearing loss.

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

When we can 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. In contemporary digital hearing aids, if a frequency goes into the hearing aid’s microphone, the hearing aid automatically knows whether you can 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 enhance your ability to process background noise.

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

Schedule an appointment for a hearing test today if you think you may be dealing with hearing loss. We can help.

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