So you suspected you may suffer from hearing loss and went to the audiologist for a hearing test—now what? At the audiologist, your doctor may have conducted several different types of tests, including an ear examination and a tympanometry test. At the end of the session, you should ask for your audiogram, a chart that documents the results of the various hearing tests performed. At its most basic, an audiogram shows the quietest sounds that you can hear. Audiograms may be confusing, so let’s take a closer look at how to interpret your hearing test results.
What Will My Hearing Test Results Look Like?
The chart displaying your hearing test results may vary in appearance depending on the type of hearing loss you have. We’ve discussed in previous blogs the difference between sensorineural, conductive, and mixed hearing loss, which all show up differently on audiograms. Your audiogram will look something like the photo above!
What Do Those Numbers Mean?
In order to understand your audiogram, there are a few terms to become familiar with first. Sound is measured in decibels and frequency. A decibel (dB) shows the volume or intensity of a sound, while frequency shows the pitch (high or low). Frequency is measured in units called Hertz (Hz). Frequency is represented on the bottom of the graph, along the horizontal X axis, while decibels are displayed on the left side of the graph, along the vertical Y axis.
The audiogram charts your hearing threshold—your ability to barely detect a tone at each charted frequency, 50% of the time. On the audiogram, there are two different lines, one for each ear. Most audiograms color one ear blue and the other red. The Xs and Os show at what decibel and frequency level each ear could hear a tone, and the lines are added in later to more clearly chart the patterns. If your lines match up to each other, you have symmetrical hearing loss, meaning your hearing loss is equal in both ears. If your lines are different patterns, like the example above, you have asymmetrical hearing loss.
How Do I Read My Hearing Test Results?
The audiogram can reveal whether you have high or low frequency hearing loss. In the audiogram above, the patient’s ability to hear drops off sharply at 1000 Hertz, indicating that they have high frequency hearing loss. This type of hearing loss makes it difficult to hear high-pitched sounds, like the voices of women and children.
The decibels on the left side of the graph reveal what level of hearing loss you have. Normal hearing range is between -10 dB and 25 dB. A patient that cannot hear sounds louder than 25 dB has some degree of hearing loss. As the numbers increase and your lines descend down the graph, your hearing loss increases. In the audiogram above, the left ear (blue) cannot hear anything softer than about 55 dB (quiet conversation, background music in an office), and the right ear cannot hear below 90 dB (airplane or motorcycle). As we can see, the right ear has much more severe hearing loss than the left ear.
An audiogram may also reveal what type of hearing loss you have and the cause, whether it’s sensorineural or conductive, and if it’s age-related (presbyacusis), noise-induced, or due to other factors. Consult your audiologist for the most thorough reading of your audiogram and to find out how to best manage your hearing loss!