An audiogram is a graph that shows the audible threshold for standardized frequencies as measured by an audiometer. The Y axis represents intensity measured in decibels and the X axis represents frequency measured in Hertz. Most audiograms cover a limited range of frequencies 100 Hz to 8000 Hz (8 kHz) because this range includes the fundamental frequency of sounds in speech. The threshold of hearing is plotted relative to a standardised curve that represents 'normal' hearing, in dB(HL). They are not the same as equal-loudness contours, which are a set of curves representing equal loudness at different levels, as well as at the threshold of hearing, in absolute terms measured in dB SPL (sound pressure level).
Audiograms are set out with frequency in hertz (Hz) on the horizontal axis, most commonly on a logarithmic scale, and a linear dBHL scale on the vertical axis. Normal hearing is classified as being between −10 dB(HL) and 15 dB(HL), although 0 dB from 250 Hz to 8 kHz is deemed to be 'average' normal hearing.
Hearing thresholds of humans and other mammals can be found by using behavioural hearing tests or physiological tests. An audiogram can be obtained using a behavioural hearing test called Audiometry. For humans the test involves different tones being presented at a specific frequency (pitch) and intensity (loudness). When the person hears the sound they raise their hand or press a button so that the tester knows that they have heard it. The lowest intensity sound they can hear is recorded. The test varies for children, their response to the sound can be a head turn or using a toy. The child learns what they can do when they hear the sound, for example they are taught that when they heard the sound they can put a toy man in a boat. A similar technique can be used when testing some animals but instead of a toy, food can be used as a reward for responding to the sound. Physiological tests do not need the patient to respond (Katz 2002). For example when performing the brainstem auditory evoked potentials the patient’s brainstem responses are being measured when a sound is played into their ear. In the US, the NIOSH recommends that people who are regularly exposed to hazardous noise have their hearing tested once a year, or every three years otherwise.
Audiograms are produced using a piece of test equipment called an audiometer, and this allows different frequencies to be presented to the subject, usually over calibrated headphones, at any specified level. The levels are, however, not absolute, but weighted with frequency relative to a standard graph known as the minimum audibility curve which is intended to represent a 'normal' hearing. This is not the best threshold found for all subjects, under ideal test conditions, which is represented by around 0 Phon or the threshold of hearing on the equal-loudness contours, but is standardised in an ANSI standard to a level somewhat higher at 1 kHz . There are several definitions of the minimal audibility curve, defined in different international standards, and they differ significantly, giving rise to differences in audiograms according to the audiometer used. The ASA-1951 standard for example used a level of 16.5 dB(SPL) at 1 kHz whereas the later ANSI-1969/ISO-1963 standard uses 6.5 dB(SPL), and it is common to allow a 10 dB correction for the older standard.
Audiograms and diagnosing types of hearing loss
Ideally the audiogram would show a straight line, but in practice everyone is slightly different, and small variations are considered normal. Larger variations, especially below the norm, may indicate hearing impairment which occurs to some extent with increasing age, but may be exacerbated by prolonged exposure to fairly high noise levels such as by living close to an airport or busy road, work related exposure to high noise, or brief exposure to very high sound levels such as gunshot or music in either a loud band or clubs and pubs. Hearing impairment may also be the result of certain diseases such as CMV or Ménière's disease and these can be diagnosed from the shape of the audiogram.
Otosclerosis results in an audiogram with significant loss at all frequencies, often of around 40 dB(HL). A deficiency particularly around 2 kHz (termed a Carhart notch in the audiogram) is characteristic of either otosclerosis or a congenital ossicular anomaly.
Typical examples of audiograms showing conductive, noise induced and age-related hearing loss can be found here.
- Hearing range
- Equal-loudness contour
- Minimum audibility curve
- Articulation index
- Pure tone audiometry
- Hearing (sense)
- Exposure action value
- Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention: Frequently Asked Questions. NIOSH Safety and Health Topic.
- pure tone audiometry in otosclerosis from General Practice Notebook. Retrieved 2012
- Kashio, A.; Ito, K.; Kakigi, A.; Karino, S.; Iwasaki, S. -I.; Sakamoto, T.; Yasui, T.; Suzuki, M.; Yamasoba, T. (2011). "Carhart Notch 2-kHz Bone Conduction Threshold Dip: A Nondefinitive Predictor of Stapes Fixation in Conductive Hearing Loss with Normal Tympanic Membrane". Archives of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery 137 (3): 236–240. doi:10.1001/archoto.2011.14. PMID 21422306.
- pure tone audiometry in Meniere's disease from General Practice Notebook. Retrieved 2012
- pure tone audiometry in noise deafness from General Practice Notebook. Retrieved 2012
- Gotfrit, M (1995) Range of human hearing [online] Available from http://www.sfu.ca/sca/Manuals/ZAAPf/r/range.html Zen Audio Project [28th Feb 2007]
- Katz, J (2002)5th ed. Clinical Audiology Lippen-Cott Williams and Wilkins
- Rubel, E. Popper, A. Fay, R (1998) Development of the Auditory System New York: Springer-Verlag inc.
- Levels of hearing loss
- Online Audiogram Hearing Test
- Pure tone audiometry in glue-ear
- Audiogram of Meniere's disease
- Audiogram in nerve-deafness
- Audiogram in Otosclerosis
- Audiogram in Chronic otitis media
- Audiogram - GP notebook
- Behavioral Audiograms of Mammals (in Table Form)
- Noise and hearing conservation