It might seem, at first, like measuring hearing loss would be easy. If you’re suffering from hearing loss, you can probably hear some things clearly at a lower volume, but not others. You may confuse particular letters like “S” or “B”, but hear other letters just fine at any volume. When you figure out how to interpret your hearing test it becomes more obvious why your hearing is “inconsistent”. Because simply turning up the volume isn’t enough.
When I get my audiogram, how do I interpret it?
An audiogram is a type of hearing test that hearing professionals use to calculate how you hear. It won’t look as straightforward as a scale from one to ten. (Wouldn’t it be fantastic if it did!)
Rather, it’s written on a graph, which is why many individuals find it confusing. But you too can understand a hearing test if you know what you’re looking at.
Reading volume on a hearing test
Along the left side of the graph is the volume in Decibels (dB) from 0 (silent) to around 120 (thunder). This number will define how loud a sound has to be for you to be able to hear 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 sound between 26 and 45 dB. You’re dealing with moderate hearing loss if your hearing starts at 45-65 dB. If you begin hearing at between 66 and 85 dB then it indicates you’re dealing with severe hearing loss. If you can’t hear sound until it reaches 90 dB or more (louder than the volume of a running lawnmower), it means that you have profound hearing loss.
Reading frequency on a hearing test
You hear other things besides volume also. You hear sound at varied frequencies, commonly called pitches in music. Different types of sounds, including letters of the alphabet, are differentiated by frequency or pitch.
On the lower section of the graph, you’ll usually see frequencies that a human ear can detect, going from a low frequency of 125 (deeper than a bullfrog) to a high frequency of 8000 (higher than a cricket)
This test will let us figure out how well you can hear within a range of frequencies.
So if you’re dealing with hearing loss in the higher wavelengths, you might need the volume of high frequency sounds to be as loud as 60 dB (the volume of somebody talking at an elevated volume). The chart will plot the volumes that the various frequencies will have to reach before you’re able to hear them.
Why tracking both volume and frequency is so essential
So in real life, what could the outcome of this test mean for you? High-frequency hearing loss, which is a quite common form of loss would make it more difficult to hear or understand:
- Beeps, dings, and timers
- Higher pitched voices like women and children tend to have
- “F”, “H”, “S”
- Whispers, even if hearing volume is good
While somebody who has high-frequency hearing loss has more trouble with high-frequency sounds, certain frequencies may seem easier to hear than others.
Inside of the inner ear tiny stereocilia (hair-like cells) move in response to sound waves. If the cells that detect a certain frequency become damaged and eventually die, you lose your ability to hear that frequency at lower volumes. If all of the cells that pick up that frequency are damaged, then you completely lose your ability to hear that frequency regardless of volume.
Interacting with other people can become extremely frustrating if you’re dealing with this type of hearing loss. You may have difficulty only hearing some frequencies, but your family members may assume they have to yell to be heard at all. And higher frequency sounds, like your sister speaking to you, often get drowned out by background noise for individuals who have this kind of hearing loss.
Hearing solution can be individualized by a hearing professional by using a hearing test
When we are able to understand which frequencies you can’t hear well or at all, we can program a hearing aid to meet each ear’s unique hearing profile. Modern hearing aids have the ability to recognize precisely what frequencies go into the microphone. The hearing aid can be fine tuned to boost whatever frequency you’re having trouble hearing. Or it can make use of its frequency compression feature to change the frequency to one you can better hear. They also have functions that can make processing background sound less difficult.
This creates a smoother more normal hearing experience for the hearing aid user because rather than just making everything louder, it’s meeting your unique hearing needs.
If you believe you may be dealing with hearing loss, contact us and we can help.