More than 48 million Americans have some form of diagnosable hearing loss, yet many don’t realize it. If you find you’re saying, “huh?” during conversations or blaring the television at night, it is likely time to consider booking an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional.

Diagnosing hearing loss

Audiologists are doctors capable of diagnosing hearing loss. In order to diagnose hearing loss, a hearing healthcare professional will perform a series of tests. One such test is a pure-tone test. This type of test determines the range of pitches an individual can hear. It will pinpoint the faintest tones a person can hear at multiple pitches, or frequencies.

The test is not painful and shouldn’t cause anxiety for the patient. During the test, an individual will wear headphones. A sound will be played in the headphones; if the patient hears the sound, he or she raises her hand, presses a button or says yes. Each ear will be tested individually in order to get the most accurate results.

Often times, young children have difficulty keeping headphones on their head. In such cases, sounds will be presented through speakers inside of a sound booth. This type of testing is known as sound-field screening. Because sound-field screening does not provide ear-specific information, audiologists will typically also perform additional testing to ensure potential unilateral hearing loss isn’t missed.

Understanding your audiogram

The results are laid out in an audiogram. In an audiogram each vertical line represents pitch or frequency in Hz. The left side of the graph mirrors the lowest pitches, while the highest pitches are shown on the right side of the graph. The audiogram frequency ranges from 125 Hz to 8000 Hz. Examples of low-pitched sounds include a bass drum or tuba while types of high pitched sounds include birds chirping or the chime of a metal triangle.

The horizontal lines on the audiogram represent loudness or intensity. The top of the chart represents soft sounds — a ticking clock, whisper or rustling leaves — while the lines at the bottom of the chart indicate very loud sounds. Examples of loud sounds with higher dB measures are a lawnmower, car horn and concert.

Your degree of hearing loss

The audiogram will show the pattern of hearing loss, also called the configuration, as well as the degree of hearing loss. For example, you may experience normal hearing in low pitches, enabling you to hear everyday conversation, but have hearing loss at higher pitches, causing you to miss the chirp of the morning birds.

Upon reading the audiogram, your hearing healthcare professional will be able to determine the corrective devices you will most benefit from.