When you fail an initial hearing screening, you are referred to an audiologist for a more complete hearing test. While a screening might take just a few moments, complete hearing tests can take one to two hours. As part of these tests, a report known as an audiogram is created.

It may look like lines on a page, but it provides important information about the condition of your hearing. Your audiogram measures your ability to hear pitch and loudness. Here’s how to read an audiogram.

Frequency in hertz

This measurement will be the x- axis or the horizontal measurement on the graph. This represents the frequency of the sound waves. This measures how many sound wave cycles occur in one second. Frequency is measured in Hertz or you may see it abbreviated as Hz. The numbers read from left to right and represent sounds from low frequency to high frequency. The highest note on a piano is a little under 4,100 Hz and cats purr at about 22 Hz.

Intensity in decibels

What we call “loudness” is technically the intensity of a sound. Intensity gets measured in decibels. Normal conversation and piano practice are both in the 60-70 decibel range. Regular exposure to sounds over 90 decibels can result in hearing loss. A typical lawn mower operates at 107 decibels.

The intensity is the y-axis on your audiogram or the vertical axis.

Reading the audiogram

The audiogram charts your hearing threshold at each frequency. A threshold is defined as the intensity at which the tone is barely detected 50 percent of the time. During your hearing test, the audiologist repeats the same frequency at different intensities and may perform the same test two or three times. This is why hearing tests take much more time than hearing screenings!

The audiogram will also indicate if the sound threshold was determined with air conduction or bone conduction.

Normal hearing and hearing loss

For adults, normal hearing versus some level of hearing loss are defined as follows:

  • 0 dB – 20 dB               Normal hearing
  • 20 dB – 40 dB             Mild hearing loss
  • 40 dB – 55 dB             Moderate hearing loss
  • 55 dB – 70 dB             Moderately severe hearing loss
  • 70 dB – 90 dB             Severe hearing loss
  • >90 dB                         Profound hearing loss

The audiogram is a measure of how you hear. It does not measure the quality of your hearing. It can’t determine if you hear speech clearly, it can just measure if you hear sounds at the average decibel level of conversation. Speech recognition can help refine your results. For example, vowels tend to be higher in decibels and frequency, so they fall lower on the chart while consonants may be lower in decibels.

Talking to the audiologist 

Don’t worry if you can’t understand your audiogram. Your audiologist will interpret the results for you; explain what they mean and make recommendations if necessary for assistance with hearing. Hearing aids may be recommended to help you hear more sound and hear sounds more clearly. There are many different types of hearing aids available and your audiologist will be able to recommend which type will give you the best hearing experience.