Understanding Hearing Tests

Understanding Hearing Tests

In hearing health, hearing loss, Hearing Tests by Laurie Duffy, M.S.

It can be a long journey towards admitting you have a hearing loss. However, once you do you can finally take the steps towards treatment. The first step is to schedule a hearing exam. Your audiologist will measure your hearing ability and print it out on what is called an audiogram. An audiogram displays the results of your hearing test and while at first it may seem like a bunch of indecipherable lines and symbols – we can help you make sense of it. 

Testing for Hearing Ability

Hearing loss occurs at different rates and effects different tones pitches and sounds for everyone. The goal of audiometric testing is to measure your hearing ability across a range of frequencies in each ear. There are several methods this is achieved: 

Hearing threshold: Your audiologist will play beeps into your ear in a soundproof room at different levels to determine your hearing threshold. A hearing threshold defines the softest sounds you are able to detect about 50 percent of the time. 

Speech testing: Your audiologist will also attempt to determine how well you can decipher speech. The audiologist will say words to you through headphones, and you will repeat the words to determine this.

Reading Your Audiogram

On your audiogram are two axes: 

The horizontal axis, represented with an x, represents frequency or pitch from lowest to highest. The lowest frequency tested is usually 250 Hertz (Hz), and the highest is usually 8000 Hz. Sounds become higher as you read from left to right. An important thing to remember is that most speech falls into the 250 to 6000 Hz range, with the vowel sounds among the lowest frequencies and the consonants such as S, F, SH, CH, H, TH, T and K registering among the highest frequencies.

The vertical axis, represented with a y, represents the intensity (loudness) of sound in decibels (dBA). The quietest decibel levels begin at the top of the graph. It’s important to remember that hearing loss occurs on a spectrum.  For instance, zero decibels actually represents the softest level of sound that the average person with normal hearing will hear, for any given frequency, though some people can hear sounds as quiet as -10 dBA!

Audiogram depicting red and blue lines straight across

There are two lines on your graph. The left ear is represented on the graph with a blue line while the right ear is represented with a red line. Each symbol on the chart represents your threshold for a given frequency. The lines connect the different frequencies you can hear and charts them across the graph.

When the two lines nearly overlap this is called symmetrical hearing, meaning hearing ability is equal in both ears. If the lines differ is called asymmetrical, meaning your ears have differing degrees of hearing loss.

What does Normal Hearing Look Like?

Normal hearing occurs on a spectrum. Anything hearing threshold below 25 dBA is considered normal. Past this point is considered a hearing loss- even if it’s slight.

While it’s helpful for you to understand your audiogram, your audiologist will help you understand it better. They will classify the severity of your hearing loss, as slight, mild, moderate, moderate-to-severe, severe, or profound. They will also determine the pattern of your loss, generally as flat, sloping or rising.

Audiogram showing Degrees of Hearing Loss

The space between the normal hearing area and your threshold represents the sounds you’re missing due to your hearing loss. The larger the space, the more sounds you’re not able to hear. Your audiologist will recommend the best treatment based on your individual and particular hearing loss. It can be different for everyone, however, the most common treatment for hearing loss are hearing aids. Hearing aids can be programed based on your hearing exam to amplify the sounds you are missing.

Discover the Nature of Your Hearing Loss!

If you are curious to find out what is the nature of your hearing loss, a hearing exam can give you insight around the actual degree of hearing loss you have. This can determine the best treatment to better support your life and relationships. If you’ve suspected you have hearing loss and have been putting it off, don’t wait another day! Schedule your hearing exam today!