Determining hearing loss is more technical than it might at first seem. If you’re suffering from hearing loss, you can most likely hear some things clearly at a lower volume, but not others. The majority of letters may sound clear at any volume but others, such as “s” and “b” could get lost. When you figure out how to interpret your hearing test it becomes more obvious why your hearing is “inconsistent”. It’s because there’s more to hearing than just cranking up the volume.
When I get my audiogram, how do I decipher it?
An audiogram is a type of hearing test that hearing professionals use to determine how you hear. It would be terrific if it looked as basic as a scale from one to ten, but regrettably, that isn’t the case.
Rather, it’s printed on a graph, and that’s why many individuals find it confusing. But you too can understand a hearing test if you’re aware of what you’re looking at.
Decoding the volume portion of your audiogram
On the left side of the graph is the volume in Decibels (dB) from 0 (silent) to about 120 (thunder). This number will define how loud a sound needs to be for you to be able to hear it. Higher numbers signify that in order for you to hear it, you will require louder sound.
If you’re unable to hear any sound until it reaches about 30 dB then you’re dealing with mild hearing loss which is a loss of volume between 26 and 45 dB. If hearing begins at 45-65 dB then you’re dealing with moderate hearing loss. Hearing loss is severe if your hearing begins at 66-85 dB. Profound hearing loss means that you can’t hear until the volume gets up to 90 dB or more, which is louder than a lawnmower.
Examining frequency on a hearing test
Volume’s not the only thing you hear. You hear sound at different frequencies, commonly called pitches in music. Different types of sounds, including letters of the alphabet, are distinguished by frequency or pitch.
Frequencies which a human ear can hear, from 125 (lower than a bullfrog) to 8000 (higher than a cricket), are normally listed along the bottom of the chart.
This test will allow us to define how well you can hear within a range of wavelengths.
So if you have hearing loss in the higher frequencies, you might need the volume of high frequency sounds to be as high as 60 dB (the volume of somebody talking at a raised volume). The chart will plot the volumes that the various frequencies will need to reach before you can hear them.
Why tracking both volume and frequency is so important
So in the real world, what might the outcome of this test mean for you? Here are some sounds that would be tougher to hear if you have the very prevalent form of high frequency hearing loss:
- “F”, “H”, “S”
- Beeps, dings, and timers
- Women and children who tend to have higher-pitched voices
- Whispers, even if hearing volume is good
While someone 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 little stereocilia (hair-like cells) shake in response to sound waves. You lose the ability to hear in any frequencies which the corresponding hair cells that detect those frequencies have become damaged and died. If all of the cells that pick up that frequency are damaged, then you entirely lose your ability to hear that frequency even at higher volumes.
This kind of hearing loss can make some interactions with friends and family extremely frustrating. Your family members may think they need to yell at you in order to be heard even though you only have trouble hearing certain wavelengths. And higher frequency sounds, such as your sister talking to you, often get drowned out by background noise for individuals who have this type of hearing loss.
Hearing solutions can be personalized by a hearing professional by using a hearing test
When we can recognize which frequencies you cannot hear well or at all, we can program a hearing aid to meet each ear’s unique hearing profile. In contemporary digital hearing aids, if a frequency enters the hearing aid’s microphone, the hearing aid automatically knows whether you’re able to hear that frequency. The hearing aid can be programmed to boost whatever frequency you’re having trouble hearing. Or it can adjust the frequency through frequency compression to a different frequency you can hear. They also have functions that can make processing background sound simpler.
This delivers a smoother more natural hearing experience for the hearing aid user because instead of simply making everything louder, it’s meeting your unique hearing needs.
Schedule an appointment for a hearing exam right away if you think you might be suffering from hearing loss. We can help.