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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 the type and severity of your hearing loss very easily. Hearing specialists are trained to read the graphs that the audiometer prints in reference to your specific hearing loss. They use their knowledge of hearing loss, to determine if certain hearing aids will work better for your loss than others.

Every audiogram is slightly different, and small variations are considered normal. Larger variations indicate hearing impairment, which occurs to some extent with increasing age, but may be made worse by prolonged exposure to high noise levels. Hearing impairment may also be the result of certain diseases. A trained eye can diagnose some diseases by looking at the shape of the audiogram.

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, at specified levels.

Understanding your audiogram

Most audiograms map the same components; frequency, intensity, right and left ear markers. They are placed 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, >, ], a circle, triangle or square.

Understanding your level of hearing loss

The hearing specialist reads 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 of hearing loss 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 your hearing specialist explains your hearing loss and the options to correct it. Even if you don’t completely understand each marking, a trained hearing specialist will understand it and guide you through the process of picking a hearing instruments that works for your specific hearing loss.