Interpreting Your Hearing Test Results

Learn how to read your audiogram and make sense of your hearing test results.

When you have your hearing professionally checked, the audiologist or specialist will conduct a series of tests designed to measure your hearing acuity and to determine the nature and extent of any hearing loss. Central among these is the classic pure tone test, to measure the quietest tone that you can hear at each frequency (pitch) across a range of testing frequencies.

The results of the pure tone testing are plotted on a chart called an audiogram. (Normally the audiogram is one section of a more comprehensive form, and the results of the other parts of the hearing exam are also recorded on this form.)

sensorineural hearing loss audiogram, right ear
Image courtesy of US Department of Labor
Sample audiogram, showing right ear only

The Audiogram

Across the top of the audiogram is the range of frequencies tested, measured in hertz (Hz). Down the left of the chart is a sound level scale, in decibels (dB), with 0 dB near the top. On the chart is plotted your hearing threshold at each frequency tested. For the air conduction test (performed with headphones or earphones), the left ear is plotted using a blue X, and the right ear is plotted using a red O.

For a person with excellent hearing, all of the data points would be near the top of the chart, close to 0 dB for every frequency tested. Wherever the markings dip below the top area of the chart, it indicates hearing loss.

Calculating Your Overall Threshold Hearing Level

All of the data shown on the chart is useful in assessing the character of the hearing loss and how best to treat it. But sometimes it is helpful to condense the information in the hearing test results down into a single number, to summarize the findings concisely. You can use the chart to calculate your overall threshold hearing level, which in turn can be used to classify the degree of hearing loss (mild, moderate, severe, etc).

To calculate your overall threshold hearing level, first calculate the average dB level shown for all the Xs (left ear), then do the same for all the Os (right ear). For example, on the chart shown above, the average dB level for all the Os is:

(10+10+10+20+40+55+35) ÷ 7 = 26 dB

The Xs are not shown on this chart, but you would follow the same procedure for those as well. So you have two numbers, an X average and an O average. Now take the lower of these two numbers; that is the overall threshold hearing level for your better ear. With this number, you can use this hearing loss chart to categorize the degree of hearing loss you have.

Test Hearing Regularly to See Changes over Time

An audiogram is a picture of your hearing profile as captured at a single point in time. If you have your hearing tested regularly, you can compare your hearing test results from year to year to see whether your hearing ability is worsening over time, and how fast it's happening.

If you are exposed to hazardous levels of noise, the US Centers for Disease Control recommends that you have your hearing professionally tested every year. For an adult with healthy ears and no hazardous noise exposure, testing every three years is recommended. Of course, any time you notice a change in your hearing or have any other concerns about your hearing, it should also be checked out.

See also:
What tests are performed during a professional hearing test?
Using an audiogram to classify degrees of hearing loss

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