How to Read an Audiogram (Hearing Test)

Hearing test

Your ability to hear is vital to your quality of life. Even slight changes in your hearing capacity can affect your interactions with friends and family and your overall experience of the world.

An audiogram is a hearing test that visually charts your hearing capability in each ear. Understanding how to read a hearing test can help address hearing loss early with hearing aids and make changes to your lifestyle to protect your auditory health.

What is an Audiogram?

The audiogram is a crucial tool in audiology to visually represent your hearing ability and is instrumental in diagnosing and characterizing the extent and type of hearing loss. The chart represents the results of an audiometry hearing test, typically conducted by an audiologist or a healthcare professional.

This test asks you to listen to sounds at various pitches and volumes through headphones or other specialized equipment. Whenever you detect a sound, you’ll signal it, typically by raising your hand or pressing a button.

The healthcare professional documents the sounds you can hear, plotting this data on the audiogram. The chart provides a comprehensive depiction of your hearing capacity, helping detect potential hearing loss.

Importance of Audiogram (Hearing Test)

Regular hearing tests are essential for maintaining overall health and well-being, especially considering the prevalence of hearing loss across various age groups.

Research shows that about 2% of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss, a figure that rises to nearly 25% for those aged 65 to 74 and 50% for individuals over 75. Additionally, one in eight people in the United States, or roughly 30 million individuals aged 12 and older, have hearing loss in both ears.

Besides identifying hearing loss, regular audiometry tests can also assist in:

  • Protecting cognitive health. There’s a strong link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, with studies showing that hearing loss in mid-life doubles your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Catching hearing issues early can prevent them from affecting your brain’s ability to process sounds, which may help maintain your cognitive functions.
  • Early detection of related health issues. Hearing tests can sometimes reveal underlying health conditions. For instance, if you have tinnitus, it might be related to high blood pressure. Treating these related conditions can also help in managing or preventing hearing loss.
  • Preventing further hearing damage. The sooner a hearing problem is identified, the easier it is to treat. Early intervention can prevent your hearing from worsening and save you from long-term or permanent hearing damage.
  • Monitoring hearing changes over time. Hearing loss often occurs gradually, making it hard to notice day-to-day changes. Regular hearing tests allow your audiologist to track your hearing over time, ensuring that any decline is addressed quickly.
  • Adapting to life changes. Routine examinations can assist in recalibrating your hearing aids to adapt to new environments, guaranteeing you consistently receive an optimal hearing experience.
  • Reducing emotional and social impact. Hearing loss can lead to a range of emotional and social challenges, from frustration and embarrassment to loneliness and depression. By keeping up with regular hearing tests and managing any hearing issues early, you can avoid these negative impacts and maintain a better quality of life.

Understanding the Basics of an Audiogram

An audiogram is a detailed graphical representation of your hearing ability, essential for understanding your hearing health. It primarily focuses on two key aspects: frequency and intensity.

Frequency refers to the pitch of a sound, measured in Hertz (Hz). On an audiogram, frequency is usually represented on the horizontal axis. It ranges from low-pitched sounds (like a deep bass) to high-pitched sounds (like a bird chirping). In a hearing test, you’ll listen to sounds at different frequencies to determine which pitches you can or cannot hear.

Intensity is about the loudness of a sound, measured in decibels (dB). On the audiogram, intensity is shown on the vertical axis. It starts with very soft sounds at the top, moving down to very loud sounds. During the test, sounds at various intensities are played to find the softest sounds you can hear at each frequency.

An audiogram typically shows the hearing ability of both ears. This is important because it’s common for people to have different levels of hearing in each ear. On the chart, the results for the right ear are usually marked with an ‘O’ or a triangle and are often in red. The left ear’s results are marked with an ‘X’ or a square, usually in blue.

By looking at the audiogram, you can see how well each ear hears at different frequencies and intensities. For instance, if the marks for one ear are consistently lower on the chart, it means that ear has more hearing loss at various pitches.

Audiogram test

How to Read a Hearing Test

Reading a hearing test or an audiogram is straightforward once you understand the graph’s layout and symbols. The Y-axis (vertical) represents the intensity or loudness of sound. It ranges from -10 dB (very soft sounds) to 110 dB (extremely loud sounds like a jackhammer).

The X-axis (horizontal) measures the frequency or pitch of the sound, ranging from 125 Hz (low-frequency sounds like a bullfrog’s croak) to 8,000 Hz (high-frequency sounds like a cricket chirping).

The audiogram will also feature various symbols along the graph, representing the different results for each ear and those common to both ears. Standard symbols include:

  • O or red triangle. This symbol represents the hearing results from your right ear, measured through air conduction (using headphones).
  • X or a blue square. This indicates the hearing results from your left ear, also measured through air conduction.
  • S. This symbol means the information is not specific to one ear.
  • < or [. This shows results from your right ear measured with bone conduction.
  • > or ]. This is for the left ear’s results measured with bone conduction.

These symbols are marked at the lowest intensity level at which you can hear a frequency, indicating your threshold level. The audiogram connects these threshold levels for each ear, showing your hearing ability across different loudness and frequencies.

Deciphering Your Audiogram Results

how to read the hearing test

Understanding your audiogram results might initially appear daunting, but grasping the basics of what the chart illustrates allows you to comprehend how to read an audiogram, providing valuable insights into your auditory health.

Normal Hearing Results

In an ideal audiogram, the line representing your hearing thresholds (the quietest sounds you can hear) will fall within the -10 to 15 decibels (dB) range across all frequencies. This indicates normal hearing ability, meaning you can hear soft and loud sounds across a wide range of pitches, from low to high.

Mild Hearing Loss

If your thresholds are between 16 and 40 dB, you may have difficulty hearing soft sounds and understanding speech in noisy environments. This is considered mild hearing loss.

Moderate Hearing Loss

Thresholds between 41 and 70 dB suggest moderate hearing loss. If you have moderate hearing loss, following conversations without hearing aids can be challenging, especially in noisy settings.

Severe Hearing Loss Results

When thresholds fall between 71 and 95 dB, it indicates severe hearing loss. In this range, understanding speech is very difficult without amplification.

Profound Hearing Loss and Deafness Results

Thresholds that are 95 dB or higher indicate profound hearing loss or deafness. Even very loud sounds might not be heard in this range, and communication typically relies on visual or tactile cues, such as sign language or vibration.

There is More to a Hearing Test Than Just an Audiogram

There is more to treating hearing loss than just amplification. A complete hearing test includes word/speech recognition and speech in noise tests, with follow-up tests repeated while wearing the hearing aids to assess how effective the initial programming has been.

Even a normal audiogram, does not rule out hearing dysfunction, your audiologist may need further testing, including word recognition speech-in-noise tests, otoacoustic emissions (OAE) testing, auditory brainstem response (ABR) testing, or a more comprehensive evaluation by an audiologist or an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist.

The Role of Health Professionals in Audiogram Interpretation

While you can learn how to read audiogram results yourself, consulting a healthcare professional is essential for accurately diagnosing and managing your hearing health based on your test results.

Knowing when to seek advice from a hearing specialist, understanding their use of audiogram data, and recognizing the significance of regular hearing evaluations are key steps in preserving your auditory health and responding effectively to any changes.

When to Consult a Hearing Specialist

Consider seeking a specialist’s guidance if you experience challenges hearing conversations, particularly in loud settings, or if you often request others to repeat themselves.

Other indicators that warrant a visit to a hearing specialist include continuous ringing in your ears, known as tinnitus, or noticing that you need to increase the volume on your TV or radio. Relying more on closed captions or subtitles to comprehend TV shows or movies is also a sign.

How Health Professionals Use Audiogram Data

Audiologists and other hearing specialists use the data from your audiogram to understand the specifics of your hearing ability. The audiogram shows them the softest sounds you can hear at different pitches and volumes.

This information helps them determine whether you have hearing loss, the type of loss (conductive, sensorineural, or mixed), and its severity. Based on this, they can recommend appropriate treatments or interventions, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other assistive listening devices.

How Regular Hearing Tests Contribute to Hearing Health

Regular hearing tests are vital for early detection and management of hearing loss. They provide a baseline to compare against future tests, helping track any changes or declines in hearing ability over time.

This is particularly important as some types of hearing loss can progress gradually, making them hard to notice without regular testing. Additionally, a shift in your hearing thresholds, especially if it’s a consistent drop across multiple frequencies, can indicate a drastic change in your hearing ability.

If changes are detected, your hearing specialist might recommend further tests or update your treatment plan. This might involve recalibrating your hearing aids, considering alternative auditory devices, or exploring medical treatment options.

Support Your Aural Health With Analog Hearing Labs

If your most recent audiometry test indicates mild to moderately severe hearing loss, you may benefit from Analog Hearing Labs TrueEQ hearing aids. Our analog hearing aids offer cutting-edge analog amplification technology, including an ASL-1 amplifier circuit and Sonion and Knowles transducers. This provides crystal clear, true sound so you can enjoy music, conversations, and even background noise.

Our professionals are also available to answer any questions about how to read hearing test results to help you determine if analog hearing aids are right for you.

Contact us today to find out more.

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