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Audiogram: Definition & Interpretation

Instructor: Rachel Torrens

Rachel is a Nurse Practitioner with experience working as a high school teacher, skin surgery center, and as a family NP.

For those with hearing loss, knowing the extent of the loss provides concrete answers for the best way to move forward. In this lesson, learn the details of interpreting the extent of hearing loss an audiogram can reveal.

Defining Hearing Loss

We all have memories linked to sound. Perhaps you recall blasting the music with friends during a road trip, or the first time you heard 'I love you' whispered in your ear. Many of us take such memories for granted, assuming that every individual has a storehouse of similar sounds. In reality, approximately 20 percent of Americans are currently experiencing some sort of hearing loss.

Hearing loss is a broad category and every individual's hearing loss is unique in what sounds can and cannot be heard. There is a tool that was developed to aid healthcare providers in pinpointing the specifics of an individual's hearing loss; it's called an audiogram.

Performing an Audiogram

An audiogram is a graph that displays a person's hearing ability at different pitches and volumes. An audiogram is performed by placing earphones over a person's ears, with sounds of varying pitches and volumes then being played through the earphones. The person is expected to raise their hand when sounds are heard. Let's take a closer look at the pitches and volumes tested in an audiogram.

As we move along the X axis of the graph, the pitch or frequency of the sound is increased. This means:

  • sounds heard on the left side of the graph are lower-pitched. Examples include a cow's moo, thunder, or a fog horn.
  • sounds heard on the right side of the graph are higher-pitched. Examples include a kitten's meow, a whistle blow, or a dentist's drill.

The frequency of the sound is measured in hertz (Hz), with low-pitched sounds having a lower hertz than a high-pitched sound. The normal pitch range for a human to be able to hear is from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Conversational pitch is usually around 60 Hz.

This is the graph paper upon which audiogram results are plotted.
Audiogram

As we move along the Y axis of the graph, the volume or amplitude of the sound is increased. This means:

  • the sound heard at the top of the graph is a very soft, low-volume sound, such as a whisper.
  • the sound heard at the bottom of the graph is a loud, high-volume sound, such as a shout.

The volume of sounds is measured in decibels (dB), with low-volume sounds having lower decibels than high-volume sounds. On average, a human can hear pitches ranging from -10 dB to 20 dB.

Traditionally, the healthcare provider administering the audiogram records the right ear with red O's and the left ear with blue X's. So taking into consideration the normal ranges for pitch and volume, where should you see the majority of X's and O's on an audiogram? That's right! Across the top, between -10 to 20 dB for every different volume tested.

Interpreting an Audiogram

The traditional audiogram is helpful at identifying the severity of hearing loss, also referred to as (1) the degree of hearing loss and (2) the configuration of the hearing loss.

Degree of Hearing Loss

The audiogram is able to show how significant the hearing loss is. Again, the normal range of hearing in a human is -10 dB to 20 dB. The higher above this range, meaning the louder the sound has to be in order for the patient to hear it, the worse the loss. For example, a person who needs the sounds to be 30 dB in order to hear them would have mild hearing loss. But a person who needs the sounds to be 75 dB in order to hear would have severe hearing loss.

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