You can look at an audiogram to understand your ability to hear. This chart shows the quietest level that you can hear high and low pitches as noted by an audiologist or other health professional when conducting an audiometry hearing test.
An audiogram can diagnose your hearing loss as well as indicate what type of hearing loss you have. It can distinguish your hearing in each ear and whether you have hearing loss on one or both sides.
You should seek the guidance of a doctor or audiologist for treatment options, but understanding the basics of an audiogram can help you analyze what you hear in the world around you.
An audiogram is the visual result of an audiometry hearing test administered by an audiologist or other health professional. This test measures potential hearing loss. The test uses a type of technology called an audiometer that can be connected to headphones, a speaker, or bone-conduction devices. The audiometer emits sounds that measure sound intensity and frequency.
You can get an audiometry hearing test in a quiet space at a doctor’s office. The test administrator will ask you to raise your hand or push a button when you hear a sound. The administrator will mark the sounds you hear on an audiogram.
The audiogram is a fairly simple graph:
- The Y-axis (vertical) measures the intensity, or loudness, of the sound. It’s measured in decibels (Db) and range from -10 to 110 on the audiogram. Low-decibel sounds include whispers. High-decibel sounds include jackhammers.
- The X-axis (horizontal) measures the frequency, or the pitch of the sound. The numbers run from 125 to 8,000 and measure hertz (Hz). Low-frequency sounds are the sounds of bullfrogs or thunder. High frequency sounds can include the sounds a cricket makes or a whistling noise.
The audiometer can measure different parts of the ear based on how you receive the sounds. Headphones, speakers, and bone-conduction devices can measure different parts of the ear to determine the type of hearing loss.
- Conductive hearing loss is hearing loss in the external ear or middle ear.
- Sensorineural hearing loss is inner ear hearing loss.
Hearing loss can occur from:
- wax blockage
- abnormal ossicles
- health conditions
You may even have several types of hearing loss. Some causes of hearing loss can be reversed and some cannot.
You may seek out an audiometry hearing test if you notice changes in your hearing, or your doctor may recommend it as part of routine wellness checks. You can get an audiogram at any age, but this test is best for adults and older children.
Children’s hearing is typically screened at birth. Children may need testing if they experience speech or other developmental delays.
Adults over age 50 may experience hearing loss with age. Some estimates state that 25 percent of adults over 50 years old and 50 percent of those over 80 years old experience hearing loss.
Where are hearing tests given?
Traditional audiograms occur in a doctor’s office, but there is newer technology that allows people to screen their hearing without the need to travel to a health professional.
These automated devices
There will be points on the audiogram marked with several notations. These symbols represent:
- O or a triangle (possibly in red) is the result from your right ear measured with headphones (air conduction)
- X or a square (possibly in blue) is the result from your left ear measured with headphones (air conduction)
- S is the result from listening through a speaker (air conduction)
- < or [ is the result from your right ear measured with bone conduction
- > or ] is the result from your left ear measured with bone conduction
The test administrator will note these marks when you indicate the lowest level of intensity at which you hear a frequency (pitch). This mark indicates your threshold level.
The audiogram will connect your various threshold levels for each ear. This line indicates your level of hearing ability across loudness and frequency.
You may be able to glance at your audiogram to determine whether you have hearing loss:
- A steady line connecting your threshold levels at the top of the chart indicates normal hearing.
- A line with rises and drops along the chart indicates hearing loss for particular frequencies.
- A line that slopes downward for higher frequencies is common in aging-related hearing loss.
- A line lower on the chart indicates more extreme hearing loss.
Normal hearing measures between -10 and 15 decibels for every threshold. You may have slight hearing loss between 16 and 25 decibels, but this may not require further correction. Your doctor may suggest a follow-up audiometry hearing test at a later date to make sure your hearing does not get worse.
There are other parts to audiometry testing that look at aspects of hearing such as:
- speech recognition
- word recognition percentage
- hearing threshold
Hearing loss levels defined
There are several levels of hearing loss:
- Mild refers to thresholds that range between 26–40 decibels; you may be able to talk with people face to face and understand them perfectly but struggle to hear sounds from far away, quiet talking, or conversations in louder spaces.
- Moderate refers to thresholds that range between 45–65 decibels; you struggle to hear conversations no matter the setting and have extreme difficulty hearing conversations in noisy spaces.
- Severe refers to thresholds that range between 66–85 decibels; you may only be able to hear someone if they are talking loudly and very close to you and cannot hear other sounds around you.
- Profound refers to thresholds greater than 85 decibels.
Seek the advice of a medical professional to examine your audiogram and provide you with treatment options for hearing loss. The audiogram will provide guidance on how to treat the condition by articulating what type of hearing loss you have, whether one or both ears have hearing loss, and how much hearing loss you have.
Complementing treatment with noise protection is always important.
Some treatments may include:
Your doctor may also recommend additional hearing tests or diagnostic procedures to better understand your condition, such as getting a tympanogram or middle ear exploration.
You can examine your audiogram to decipher whether you have hearing loss. The chart shows the thresholds where you can hear certain tones at the lowest possible sound. If the thresholds are at the top of the chart, you likely have normal hearing. Lines on the chart that curve, shift, or sit low could be a sign of hearing loss.
Your doctor or an audiologist can recommend treatment based on your type of hearing loss depicted on the audiogram and its severity.
Natalie Silver is a writer, editor, and owner of Silver Scribe Editorial Services, a publishing services company. Natalie adores working in a profession that allows her to learn about many different topics all in a day’s work. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and two children. You can learn more about Natalie’s work on her website.