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 might confuse certain letters like “S” or “B”, but hear other letters just fine at any volume. When you learn how to interpret your hearing test it becomes more obvious why your hearing seems “inconsistent”. That’s because there’s more to hearing than simply turning up the volume.

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

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

Instead, it’s printed on a graph, and that’s why many individuals find it confusing. But if you know what you’re looking at, you too can interpret the results of your audiogram.

Decoding the volume portion of your hearing test

On the left side of the chart 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 capable of hearing it. Higher numbers mean that in order for you to hear it, you will require louder sound.

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. If you begin hearing at between 66 and 85 dB then it indicates you’re dealing with severe hearing loss. 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 section of your audiogram

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

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

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

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

Is it important to track both frequency and volume?

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

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

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

Within the inner ear tiny stereocilia (hair-like cells) move in response to sound waves. You lose the ability to hear in whatever frequencies which the corresponding hair cells that pick up those frequencies have become damaged and died. 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.

Communicating with other people can become very aggravating if you’re dealing with this type of hearing loss. You might have trouble only hearing certain frequencies, but your family members might assume they need to yell to be heard at all. And higher frequency sounds, such as your sister speaking to you, often get drowned out by background noise for individuals with this kind of hearing loss.

We can use the hearing test to personalize hearing solutions

When we are able to recognize which frequencies you don’t hear well or at all, we can fine tune a hearing aid to meet each ear’s unique hearing profile. Contemporary hearing aids have the ability to know exactly what frequencies go into the microphone. It can then raise the volume on that frequency so you’re able to hear it. Or it can change the frequency by using frequency compression to another frequency that you can hear. They also have features that can make processing background sound easier.

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

If you believe you might be experiencing hearing loss, contact us and we can help.

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