An audiogram is the standard test to measure and understand a person’s hearing loss. An audiogram is a graph that shows the softest sounds a person can hear at different pitches or frequencies. Each sound a person hears has a different pitch and loudness. An audiogram can specifically tell you what frequencies and pitches you have trouble with, and what sound levels you hear well.
Although the audiogram might look confusing to you, a hearing specialist can determine your type of hearing loss very easily. Hearing specialists use their knowledge of hearing loss, to determine if certain hearing aids will work better for your hearing loss than others. Every person’s audiogram is slightly different, and small variations are considered normal. However, larger variations indicate hearing impairment.
Audiograms are produced using a piece of test equipment called an audiometer. The device allows different frequencies to be presented to the patient, usually over calibrated headphones.
Understanding Your Audiogram
Most audiograms map the same components; frequency, intensity and right and left ear markers on a graph like the one you see above.
Frequency (also called pitch) is measured in Hertz (Hz) and read from left to right on the audiogram. Each vertical line is a different frequency between 250 (very low) to 8000 (very high).
Intensity (or how loud a sound is) is measured in decibels (dB) and read from top to bottom on the audiogram. Each horizontal line represents a different intensity ranging from 0dB (softest) to 120dB (loudest). Every mark you see on your audiogram represents the softest sound you could hear in that particular frequency.
Audiometers will use different symbols and colors to mark the left and right ear. Blue is typically used for the left ear and red for the right. The symbols will vary depending on if you wore headphones or if it was an air or bone conduction test. The symbols you will see most often are X, S, >, ] or a circle, triangle or square.
A hearing specialist has to read the audiogram to determine your degree of hearing loss. They look at the softest sound heard at specific frequencies to make their distinction.
The degrees range from normal to profound:
- Normal hearing – 0 to 20dB
- Mild hearing loss – 21 to 40dB
- Moderate hearing loss – 41 to 55dB
- Moderately Severe hearing loss – 56 to 70dB
- Severe hearing loss – 71 to 90dB
- Profound hearing loss 91+dB
At first glance an audiogram can look like another language. Knowing the basics should help you follow along while a hearing care provider explains your hearing loss and the options to correct it.